Category: Land Use

From Biophilic Buildings to Cities Workshop – SF, Arup, CMU-BCA, BCN

Biophilic City Banner Image

Biophilia – The DNA for Resilient, Sustainable, and Human 21st Century Cities  


Should Cities be “Green” with Nature?

“We need nature in our lives more than ever today, and as more of us are living in cities it must be urban nature. Biophilic Cities are cities that contain abundant nature; they are cities that care about, seek to protect, restore and grow this nature, and that strive to foster deep connections and daily contact with the natural world. Nature is not something optional, but absolutely essential to living a happy, healthy and meaningful life.”(The Biophilic Cities Network (BCN):


On Friday May 13, 2016, San Francisco Planning co-sponsored a half-day workshop with Arup on Biophilic SF for the week-long Executive Education Program of the,

  • The Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and
  • Singapore Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Academy
  • Leadership in Environmental Sustainability Executive Development Program
  • on Big Data & Biophilic Design (May 9-13, 2016)

The San Francisco / ARUP Session expanded the biophilic focus of the CMU/BCA Program from the building (biophilic design) to the city (planning), exploring both the planning challenge and SF’s current initiatives.  On a walking tour to our afternoon discussion, the group visited three buildings with biophilic features, had lunch together in one plaza, and gathered in Arup’s conference room for presentations and discussion.

CMU/BCA Building Executive Program Description (from the brochure): The program offers a global overview of the sustainability movement, advocating a holistic approach to address resource management, promoting increasing use of renewable energy sources while minimizing energy consumption and maximizing health and comfort through innovative design and application of advanced building technologies. Focuses for this year’s program are on biophilic design and big data analytics.

Biophilia describes the natural affiliation of human beings toward nature and living organisms and its emphasis on the innate connection between humans and other living systems such as plants, animals and the weather. Biophilic design refers to the process of creating good habitat for people as a biological organism in the built environment.

Big Data Analytics in the context of the built environment can be defined as sensing, collection, processing and conveyance of building performance information that is understandable and actionable for data-drive decision making for processes of design, construction and operation of buildings and groups of buildings from campus to urban scales.

Click here for the workshop brochure, with a list of tour stops, participants, and literature list.

Click here for the Program Brochure (CMU/BCA Executive Ed).

Click here for a more detailed description of the tour and presentations, and more links.

Click here for references to key references in biophilic design and planning.

Email or for more information.

[Post prepared by Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, founder/past co-director and Research Program Lead of the Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee, one of the APA Sustainable Communities Division’s Sustainability Champions, and a strategic sustainability planner-economist at the SF Planning Department.]

Sustainable City Template–Hammarby

Sustainable new build: Hammarby Sjöstad is Stockholm’s largest urban construction project. The “Hammarby model” has become a tool for environmentally friendly city development around the world. When completed in 2017, 26,000 people will be living here in 11,500 apartments. The district has been planned using an eco-cycle approach and is intended to showcase ecological and environmentally sensitive construction and living. From:  Cities Alive – Rethinking Green Infrastructure, Foresight, Arup, 2015.

See also:

and Wiki:östad

[Post prepared by Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, founder/past co-director and Research Program Lead of the Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee, one of the APA Sustainable Communities Division’s Sustainability Champions, and a strategic sustainability planner-economist at the SF Planning Department.]

Biophilic City Planning & Design References

Some References of some of the leading pioneers:

  1. Biophilic Cities Network (BCN) Home Page:
  2. Stephen Kellert Yale Bio:
    1. See also his recent book Birthright-People in Nature in the Modern World, which is exceptional (link to NPR interview here:
  3. Recording of Kellert’s Keynote to the Biophilic Cities network Launch Event: (includes link to Jennifer Wolch’s also)
  4. BCN Singapore Profile, including link to the film on BioP Singapore:
  5. Film links:
    1. Biophilic Design – Architecture for Life (also their site:
    2. Others . . . see list at the URL
  6. Terrapin About Green is one pioneer (see “About Terrapin” below):
    1. All reports:
    2. 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design:
    3. The Economics of Biophilia

About Terrapin. Focusing on transformative action for society, Terrapin utilizes whole-systems thinking to develop integrated design strategies, Terrapin challenges design and ownership teams to create restorative, regenerative environments. Terrapin believes in finding solutions that reconnect people with nature and mimic natural systems as this focus offers boundless opportunities to improve the quality of life for all. They also believe that high performance design means fundamentally improving health and productivity, while improving overall economic and environmental performance.

[Post prepared by Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, founder/past co-director and Research Program Lead of the Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee, one of the APA Sustainable Communities Division’s Sustainability Champions, and a strategic sustainability planner-economist at the SF Planning Department.]

The Greening of Planning Credentials – Top Recommendations

This is a cross post from Planetizen written by Eliot Allen, LEED AP-ND, who is an instructor for and a principal at Criterion Planners of Portland Oregon. Monday, November 9, 2015 – 2:00pm PST.

As sustainability initiatives gain momentum, planners have a growing number of options for credentialing their green skills.

Introduction:  “With this year on track to be the hottest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration September 2015 global analysis, the imperative of sustainable community planning continues to mount. More communities are adopting sustainability and climate action plans. More developers are incorporating green features into their projects. And those green features are becoming more innovative and expansive. All of which is increasing the need for planning practitioners with experience and credentials that organizations can rely on for effectively accomplishing sustainability initiatives.

Go to:

[Post prepared by Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, founder/past co-director and Research Program Lead of the Northern Section’s Sustainability Committee, one of the APA Sustainable Communities Division’s Sustainability Champions, and a strategic sustainability planner-economist at the SF Planning Department.]

Vitaliy Krasovskiy / Shutterstock


Integrating Nature Into the Built Environment – Impressive Practice and Resources

The Challenge of integrating nature into our buildings and cities has been forever changed by the biophilia hypothesis.  Such integration would nurture that elusive and shy direct connection to our essential human nature. We dearly need that connection on a daily basis for our development and on-going well being. A Biophilic approach also creates a package of lower-order but more tangible value, such as habitat and biodiversity enhancement, ecosystem functioning, lower cost ecosystem services, recreation, community development. Ultimately, this integrative approach creates the higher quality places (buildings, blocks, districts, cities, regions) now desired by residents, businesses, and municipalities.

The Practice.  The leading practitioners and communities have been wrestling with how to respond effectively for the past decade, or more (for example, ILFI,, and Singapore).  It is a work in progress that is being informed by a creative cross-pollination of the planning and design professions. At the heart of this innovation is understanding and using the principles of nature–our regenerative, self-organizing, complex, living system. This innovation will forge a new body of knowledge and practice from a synthesis across the disciplines of restoration ecology, urban design, landscape architecture, architecture, urban planning, and ecological urbanism.

Singapore—A City in a Garden.  For more than 50 years, Singapore has been on a long slow path of creating a “City in a Garden.” As a result, they are a leading practitioner with many lessons and resources for the rest of us. Singapore has more than 2 million trees along roadsides, in parks and nature reserves. To achieve its “City in a Garden” vision, various greening policies have been pursued over the past five decades. These policies ensure trees are being planted along streets and within development sites. They also protect and conserve trees within development sites and in designated areas of the city with mature trees. Beyond tree planting and conservation, the City also recognizes the importance of green recreational spaces, which not only contribute to the expansion of the urban forest, but also serve as important community spaces and rich biodiversity sites. More recently, other exciting initiatives have also been developed to create habitat in less traditional “spaces” of the built environment. They promote roof gardens, vertical green walls and mid-level gardens. Together, these policies, schemes, and incentives help to create a city with close to 50% green cover. The various policies have helped Singapore grow into a “City in a Garden.”

Resources on Singapore include the following:

“Super” Green Buildings.  In addition, the leading edge of green buildings are often aptly characterized as super green high rises The following are three inspiring examples.

Two other examples of noteworthy buildings are the award-winning Bosco residential tower in Italy and the Commerzbank building in Frankfurt. The latter building has a series of nine 4-storey sky gardens spiraling up the building that are integrated with the natural ventilation scheme.  It’s been operating for almost 20 years now, so should also be a good source of lessons learned.

The Big Challenge of this emerging theory/practice area is going beyond the aesthetics of ornamental landscape on a big scale, often vertically. That will involve not replicating nature in all its complexity, but creating a simpler “constructed” nature in the built environment of the city-region. What part of that larger, necessarily simpler, constructed habitat will this new “nature” play in the class A office buildings?

This new practice area will not forsake ornamental landscape, but extend it and modify it in a variety of ways. Obviously, it will need to be rooted in “native” plants of the city and its historical ecology, but with an eye to what can work in a city, and a city of the future under climate change, increasingly scarce resources/high demand, equity, even to the point of what role does the nature-in-building play in a 21st century regenerative city. These questions will be addressed in practice over time. The young research area of biophilia hypothesis, the young practice area of biophilic design, and the budding area of biophilic city planning and design are systematically embracing the challenge and advancing practice. Some resources follow from Professor Timothy Beatley’s international research project on biophilic cities that lead to the launch of the Biophilic Cities Network.

 About Terrapin.  Focusing on transformative action for society, Terrapin utilizes whole-systems thinking to develop integrated design strategies, Terrapin challenges design and ownership teams to create restorative, regenerative environments. Terrapin believes in finding solutions that reconnect people with nature and mimic natural systems as this focus offers boundless opportunities to improve the quality of life for all. They also believe that high performance design means fundamentally improving health and productivity, while improving overall economic and environmental performance.


[Contributors to this post include (1) Kate Howe, AICP, Director, SF Office, VIA Architecture, (2) Kirsten Weeks, LEED AP, CEM, GRP Energy and Building Ecology Specialist, AURP, and (3) Stephanie Ng, Urban Planner (green public spaces, urban greenery and green infrastructure), Singapore National Parks Board and Masters Degree Candidate, Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Post prepared by Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, is founder/past co-director and Research Program Lead of the Sustainability Committee, one of the APA Sustainable Communities Division’s Sustainability Champions, and a strategic sustainability planner-economist at SF Planning, Information and Analysis Group and Sustainability Planning Group.]

APA California Conference 2015 Sustainability Sessions

The following is a selection of the main sustainability sessions at the Oakland Conference, including an informal pre-conference Sustainability Planning Meet-Up hosted by the Northern Section Sustainability Committee (Friday, Oct 2nd; see details below).


Sustainable Neighborhoods Pre-conference Meet-Up (5:30-8:30pm) hosted by the Northern Section Sustainability Committee and the Sustainable Communities Division Champion ( at Swan’s Market, Old Oakland.  Meet colleagues and explore a redevelopment success over wine/ beer, a tour of Swan’s Market & Co-housing, and dinner afterwards at The Cook and Her Farmer in Swan’s Market.  Light drink and snack provided, additional food and drink available for purchase. Register at Eventbrite to make logistics easy. Email


Pre-Conference Session No. 2: What the FLUP? Future Land Use Planning for Safe, Smart and Sustainable Communities. 8:45am-2:45pm (additional fee $75).

Session Block #1, 3-4:30pm:

  • Paradigm Shift in Water Use – Reworked Local & Global Water Policies & Programs
  • Cap and Trade and Disadvantaged Communities: How to Engage Residents and Plan Projects that Get Dollars and Make Sense


Mobile Workshop #3: 8-12pm. From Vision to aThriving Neighborhood: Cultural Vibrancy and Economic Vitality in Mission Bay, $35 additional fee applies

Session Block No. 2: 10am-11:30am

  • Regional Equity and Sustainability from the Ground Up: Tapping Community Wisdom in Land Use & Transportation Planning
  • Three Resilient Cities: Applying the Concept of Resiliency to Land Use Planning and Decision Making.

Mobile Workshop #4: 10am-2:30pm: Green Infrastructure Bay Area: Green Infrastructure Takes in the East Bay – $50 additional fee applies, includes lunch

Session Block No. 3: 1:15pm-2:45 pm

  • Food Cities: Planning for the Regional Economy
  • Bay Area Sustainability: Wicked Planning and Conflict Identification at Local and Regional Scales
  • Creating a Cultural EcoDistrict for Generations to Come
  • The Ecological City: A Design Workshop

Session Block #4, 3:15 pm – 4:45 pm

  • Climate Action Planning: Silver Bullets, Buckshot or Blanks?
  • The Los Angeles River: Recalibrating the Role of Water, Infrastructure and Place


Session Block #5, 8:00 am – 9:30 am

  • Sustainable Groundwater Management Comes to California: Time for Planners to Get Their Feet Wet
  • Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities: What Does it Take to Integrate Housing and Transportation?
  • Advancing Equity in Innovation Economies
  • Vision Zero: Roots for Policy Change, Improved Public Health, and Safe Streets
  • Rethinking Local in Global Context: Experiments and Lessons in Cross-Cultural Collaboration and Participatory Design

Session Block #6, 9:45 am – 11:15 am

  • Oakland Makers: Planning for New and Creative Innovative Industries
  • To Infinity … and Beyond: Exploring Post-2020 GHG Reductions

Session Block #7, 1:15 pm – 2:45 pm

  • Utilizing Integrated Utility Systems to Deliver Restorative City Goals
  • Resilience is the New Black – What Do We Mean by Resilience Planning, and Aren’t We Doing it Already?
  • Trends, Opportunities, and Challenges for Integrating Green Infrastructure with Urban Design in the SF Bay Area

Session Block #8, 3:15 pm – 4:45 pm

  • It’s a Gas – Producing BioEnergy from Organic Waste in California
  • Sustainability Jeopardy!
  • Manifest Density: A Reality Check for The Sustainable Communities Strategy


Session Block #9, 8:00 am – 9:30 am

  • Building Consensus for Sustainable Streets
  • Climate Action Planning and Urban Greening: Weaving Together Health, Resilience and Equity

Session Block #10, 9:45 am – 11:15 am

  • San Francisco’s Sustainability Districts: Translating Policy Into Action

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.

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 ( 

Evaluations–UCB/APA CompPlan Sustainability Criteria

During Spring 2014, Assistant Professor Charisma Acey’s undergraduate UC Berkeley class, CP 119 Planning for Sustainability, evaluated the APA’s beta version of their Comprehensive Plan Sustainability Accreditation Criteria for their final class project. Student teams applied the criteria to 11 Bay Area Cities, and their final presentations are listed below by city.

In addition, the APA Sustainability Committee created a CM event to support planner education and share the results with practicing planners in the Northern Section. The event involved attending one of three classes of final presentations and a 30-minute debrief/discussion with Assistant Professor Acey following the presentation. Approximately 10 planners attended and found the event engaging. The Committee may use this experimental event as the basis for developing a more systematic working relationship with the local colleges around sustainability.

For a description of the class, the associated APA CM event, and for links to the APA documents, click here. For more information about the exercise, please contact Assistant Professor Acey ( For more information about the APA CM Event, contact Scott Edmondson, AICP (

Links to Online Presentations (Wix or Prezi)

The rest are available as pdfs and can be downloaded:

Assistant Professor Acey’s Contact Information:

Charisma Acey, M.P.P., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of City and Regional Planning
University of California, Berkeley
228 Wurster Hall, MC #1850
Berkeley, CA 94720-1850
510 643-9658 fax 510 642-1641

Basic Planning 101 Workshop Series

Earlier this year we offered a series of three free Planning Commission training workshops (February, April and May). These trainings were geared to local government planning commissioners, elected officials, professional planners and/or interested parties in Northern California. Each workshop had a different theme and related presentations by seasoned members of the planning community. Each workshop was held in a different location within the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Click here for workshop contents and presentations.