Category: Innovation

Living community patterns — bits and pieces of next-generation urban form?

On January 23rd at the Net Positive (Energy+Water) Conference in San Francisco, the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) released their recently completed Living Community Patterns (LCP) – Exploratory Strategies for a Sustainable San Francisco, a research report prepared in collaboration with the San Francisco Planning Department.

Planning teams can use this report to spur innovation to achieve ILFI’s Living Community Challenge (LCC); or they can use both documents to explore the emerging practice of regenerative planning, design, and platemaking as a route to creating sustainable places, neighborhoods, and communities.

The collaboration between ILFI and the SF Planning Department under ILFI’s Living City Grant Program arose from the 2011 Living City Competition. The research project used ILFI’s regenerative framework of the LCC and inspiration from Christopher Alexander’s “Patterns Language” to explore and develop key features of an ultimately sustainable or “living” place (neighborhood, community, and city).

Research included a preliminary carrying-capacity analysis of the city’s energy, water, and food systems. The team conducted neighborhood charrettes in Noe Valley — focused on alley greening — and in Chinatown, focused on deep energy retrofits of public housing buildings.

You can download the PDF, explore its perspective on sustainable neighborhoods and communities, and contribute to its further development with comments to For the SF experience, contact

 Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, a planner with the San Francisco Planning Department, is founder, former co-director, and research lead of Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee, and an APA Sustainability Champion. “Plan-it sustainably” is a service of the Sustainability Committee.

Plan-it Sustainably Dec/Jan 2015–APA’s new Sustainability Champion program

This past summer, APA’s Sustainable Communities Division (SCD) launched a sustainability leadership pilot program: the APA State Chapter Sustainability Champion program.

The Division sought nominations and selected champions this past August and September. I was one of 10 champions chosen and look forward to working with Hing Wong, APA California’s President Elect, in beginning to develop the program.

The idea for the program grew out of the research and facilitated discussion on mobilizing sustainability in state APA Chapters that I co-developed with Anne Miller (Colorado APA Sustainability Committee) for the 2013 APA National Conference in Chicago,

SCD’s ultimate goal is to have one Sustainability Champion in each APA Chapter. Together, these Champions will form a national network, with the credibility to influence the national discourse on sustainability. The Division’s hopes for the program are that sustainability champions will . . .

  • Advance the understanding and practice of sustainability planning and be a resource for fellow planners.
  • Draw on support from others in the network and the SCD leadership to build sustainability planning capacity in their local chapters.
  • Be professionally recognized as experts who speak for sustainable planning in their community and chapter.
  • Undertake a one- or two-year term as a SCD Sustainability Champion and be supported by a co-champion.

The SCD’s goal for the initial pilot program is to recruit one Champion from each of nine regions: (1) the West Coast; (2) the West; (3) the Midwest; (4) the Great Lakes; (5) South Central; (6) the Deep South; (7) the Southeast; (8) the Northeast; and (9) New England. A second goal is to form this initial network before the 2015 national conference in Seattle.

Locally, Champions will promote sustainability within their chapters by developing a work program reflecting chapter interest around some of the following functions:

  • Being the voice for sustainability within the chapter by delivering a regular sustainability report to the chapter board, for example.
  • Functioning as the SCD liaison to the chapter and disseminating Division news in the state or region.
  • Being part of the national Sustainability Champions Network and be a subject-matter expert for planners nationally.
  • Documenting existing sustainability ‘best practices’ in the State.
  • Initiating or further developing an existing ‘sustainability track’ for the chapter conference, and possibly extending this track year-round to further institutionalize sustainability capacity within the chapter.
  • Networking with allied professional groups to develop broad-based support and greater impact for the Champions’ work.
  • Developing a sustainability committee within the chapter or taking another approach preferred by the chapter.

Next steps for me include preparing a draft work plan and beginning discussions with the California Chapter Board to identify interests, issues, and priorities to be pursued in 2015. I have started working with the 2015 APA California Conference’s local host committee through Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee to develop the sustainability track for the conference. In addition, Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee will be a key component of a likely statewide champion’s network composed primarily of interested California Section members.

If you would like to know more, have suggestions, or be kept informed, please e-mail

Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, is founder and former co-director of Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee ( He is the committee’s Research Program Lead, and a strategic sustainability planner-economist with the San Francisco Planning Department. This is a copy of the Plan-it sustainably column that first appeared in the California APA Northern News, Dec/Jan2015 issue <<URL forthcoming>>.

Testing APA’s Sustainability Accreditation Criteria on 11 Bay Area Cities

[see Professor Acey’s summary at the UCB IURD Blog]

This topic is covered in a few posts, as follows:


Expanded Article (forthcoming), July/August 2014 Plan-it sustainability, Northern News

During the spring of 2014, students in a UCB sustainability planning class found that the APA’s new Comprehensive Plan Standards for Sustaining Places (Standards) could be a powerful tool for advancing municipal sustainability. Seeing value for practitioners, APA California Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee created an event (with CM credit) by arranging with Professor Acey for planners to be able to attend one of the three final project presentations and participate in a half-hour discussion afterwards with UC Berkeley Assistant Professor Charisma Acey.

Students in Assistant Professor Acey’s Department of City & Regional Planning’s upper division class tested the APA Standards in a final class project that involved applying the Standards to 11 Bay Area cities’ general plans(Berkeley, Dublin, Emeryville, Fremont, Mountain View, Oakland, Petaluma, Richmond, San Francisco, San Jose, and San Rafael). in those applications, the students assessed the Standards’ sustainability criteria and evaluation method. In addition, they tested consistency between team members’ rating of the same criteria. (This latter statistic reveals whether the criteria are written in a way that allows for consistent interpretation.)

The students found that APA’s Standards provided a solid basis for understanding sustainability principles and policy guidance. Students found the 11 Bay Area general plans performed well in areas of eco-efficiency, GHG reduction measures, and livable built environment; moderately in terms of a resilient economy and parks and open space; and poorly on interwoven equity, accountable implementation, and a healthy community. There was little policy basis for evaluating the criteria of “authentic implementation.”

In addition, because the Standards were not used in creating the plans, there was often not an obvious relationship between plan structure and that of the Standards. Students felt that it would be better to integrate sustainability criteria throughout plans rather than embedding them in a separate section. With improvements, the student teams concluded that the Standards could be used for APA’s original two purposes: (1) to incorporate sustainability into comprehensive plans as a powerful planning tool for advancing municipal sustainability; and (2) to provide a formal APA “designation” of a general plan’s sustainability akin to LEED-type rating systems for green buildings and neighborhoods.

The students’ assessment revealed some aspects of the Standards that could be improved. First, the description of the Standards includes jargon that will be confusing to the public and professionals. Second, some of the criteria contain such a constellation of points that interpreting their meaning is difficult: Is the ranking a blended assessment across all of the points of the criteria or an assessment of only one of the points?

Additionally, there was often wide variation between team members’ scores of the same criteria, which raised questions about the rating method. Should plans be sent to external experts for evaluation? How important is local knowledge and how should it be incorporated? Is there a realistic possibility for ordinary citizens to participate? Finally, some students wondered if the framework was sufficiently aspirational, providing a good, but minimum definition of sustainability but lacking the full definition needed to develop an effective strategy.

The students’ experience testing the APA’s new Comprehensive Plan Standards for Sustaining Places validated that, with some refinement, the Standards could be a powerful tool for advancing municipal sustainability. In addition, the seven attending professional planners liked the event and supported the Committee’s plans for future events, thereby providing opportunities for professionals to benefit from–and support–planner education.

Charisma Acey, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Scott T. Edmondson, MAAUP, AICP, is a founding member of the Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee, and a planner-economist at the SF Planning Department. He pursues his wide-ranging sustainability interests in a start-up initiative, the Sustainability 2030 Institute ( 

Planning meets biomimicry?

See the featured Urban Greenprint project, other resources, and the conference link below for a quick glimpse of an inspiring range of innovative, leading-edge, regenerative/ecological/biomimicry-based urban planning projects.

This range of initiatives may be useful for planners in further defining the goal, domain, and methods of sustainability planning (the profession or an individual department).  These projects are too design/building focused to define the full domain of planning, but the connections to the larger city and a/the method is illuminated.  There is not much biophilia or biodiversity directly featured, but it is embedded.

The question to planners:  what would the “planning” behind this work look like (code, general plan policies, guidelines, themes, project types, stakeholder engagement initiatives, etc.)?

The Urban Greenprint Project mentioned below is included in the list under the title, Biomimicry & the Urban Greenprint: how can our cities function like forests (that’s Bill McDonough’s famous challenge, as you likely know).

The Sustainable Design & Development Conf 2013 (Northwest) has some other interesting topics. This is still mostly a green building dialogue, although the movement towards planning is visible.

Looks like Passive House is getting featured as affordable building technology for habitat for humanity.

This Seattle 2030 Districts Rising is worth skimming. It looks similar to the EcoDistrict concept. Again, it is building based. As such, it does not go as far as planning can go, but it is a vision and includes some planning characterisitcs. It is based on the Architecture 2030 Challenge (and associated Planning 2030 Challenge). The Architect 2030’s website also profiles their Seattle 2030 District’s initiative.

URBAN GREENPRINT PROJECT (Jennifer Barnes‘co-founder).

The Urban Greenprint is a biomimicry-inspired approach that asks what Nature can teach us that will help our cities be more resilient, healthy and livable. Although many of the current strategies being applied to solve issues like stormwater mitigation, energy efficiency and CO2 sequestration are effective, these alone will not solve the magnitude of issues that face us.

This methodology approaches environmental issues in two atypical ways: by gaining a deep understanding of a city’s predevelopment ecosystems, and by applying biomimicry to the design process to generate solutions which emulate nature.

The goal is not to recreate the predevelopment ecosystem but instead to understand how urban structures and spaces can restore the functions those earlier ecosystems provided. Through place-based research and a biomimetic process, the Urban Greenprint:

1) Provides biomimicry design guidelines

2) Proposes and champions real projects

3) Establishes a connective framework between existing city initiatives

The combination of these efforts creates a cohesive approach to improving a city’s ecological health and the wellbeing of its population.


New Division’s New Sustainability Program

APA’s new Sustainable Community Division’s new sustainability program offers insights and resources for amplifying national, state, and local initiatives. With the election of Bob Kern as Chair of APA’s new Sustainability Community Division, the division is poised for it’s first full program initiative (read it here and excerpted below for convenience). It is illustrative of upcoming directions for APA Sustainability and a powerful platform of resources for State APA Chapters and local planners.

Program:  The Division needs to promote active engagement with sustainability issues. There is already significant knowledge and discussions occurring about sustainability. The Division should add value by promoting members’ leadership and expertise. Bob’s vision for our Division is to strategically direct efforts into three areas.

The first area is to focus on a communications campaign. Sustainability is too often misunderstood or dismissed by people because it is not well defined. This campaign would redefine sustainability in ways that better connect with public and private sector decision-makers.

The second initiative is to build a sustainability leadership network nationally and in APA state chapters. This network would grow a movement of planners across the country that advances sustainable solutions in their respective regions, but have a national “toolkit” of materials to catalyze and leverage their efforts.

The third initiative I envision is a virtual training and best practices program. These online resources would be complimented with in-person sessions at national and state professional meetings. Developing a core curriculum with a handful of topics such as comprehensive planning, zoning, etc. is an important first step.

Bucky is Forefather of In-Vogue Urban Planning

Did you know that urban planning is in vogue these days!

Check out this article in the NYT reviews the contributions of Buckminster Fuller to urban planning.

. . . R. Buckminster Fuller [was] one of the 20th century’s most enthusiastic champions of urban innovation.

Though his major projects did not see the light of day, Mr. Fuller was prescient in discussing environmental problems that are now central to green urban planning. In a 2007 TED Talk, the world-renowned architect Norman Foster credited Mr. Fuller, his friend and mentor, with being one of the green design movement’s forefathers.

The key point the article misses, is that the core value Mr. Fuller produced was not the ideas themselves, but the capacity for such innovation through comprehensive anticipatory design science. The Buckminster Fuller Institute is continuing this legacy in their annual competition, the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. It contains a resources page that provides some of the foundation of comprehensive anticipatory design science.

And of course, if you want the short version, you can purchase a copy of the republished 1969, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. and help support the work of the Institute.

Intro to Living Building Challenge

Email Promotion of 8-4-11. Web Registration and further info: click here.

Greetings Scott,

What could an understanding of the Living Building Challenge lead to in your community? Green leaders with varied backgrounds and hometowns all over the world are making use of the information offered in our 6-hour workshop to spark new conversations, create some of the world’s greenest modern buildings and envision brighter futures for their cities.

Join us on August 30th and explore the possibilities in store for the Bay Area at our  “Understanding the Living Building Challenge” workshop. This workshop is eligible for 6 AIA Learning Units and 6 GBCI Continuing Education credits. Additional event details and an overview of the workshop learning objectives are included in the attached flyer.

To register, visit:

We encourage you to build your community by inviting any colleagues or associates you think would also be interested in attending.

Thank you,

The Living Building Challenge Team

Please note that we offer discounted partner rates for members of organizations that assist with outreach and promotion of this event. To arrange for partnership rates, contact:

We also offer sponsorship opportunities for those interesting in supporting the creation of Living Buildings, Sites and Communities in the Atlanta area. For details, contact: