Category: Sustainability

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


UCB/APA Briefing: The UN’s New SDGs & Implications for Local Practice

acey-charisma_bio_photo2_2_200_200UNAssemblySDGsSUMMARY.  December 8 & 10 (TUES & THURS), 2:00-5pm (the Briefing starts at 3pm; the optional pre-briefing review of city cases starts at 2pm), University of California, College of Environmental Design, Wurster Hall, Room 106, Berkeley. Please attend one or both days. The briefing will be the same each day but half the cases will be covered Tues. and half Thurs. With world leaders adopting the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this past September, this UCB/APA Briefing will summarize the new goals and present the semester-long class findings on the implications for local practice. The briefing will be base
d on 11 case studies of Bay Area cities paired with international cities around a theme (see details below). The ensuing discussion with Professor Acey and students will explore the implications further so that practitioners take away ideas for new practices in their work. No fee event. See the details below for a list of cities and background documents. Please email RSVP to Scott (day(s), arrival
time, need for parking)
and/or with questions at  CM | 1.5 pending

DETAIL. Are you curious to learn more about the SDGs and understand the implications for your local planning practice and city? Then come join Professor Charisma Acey and her students in a Practicing Planner Briefing. This lively and interactive presentation will build on two previous UCB/APA sessions that evaluated Bay Area sustainability (NOT pre-perquisites).

Planners are invited to attend one or both days.  The discussion and cities reviewed will be different each day (see below) but the core points of the briefing and focus on practical implications for local practice will be the same. The pre-briefing will start at 2pm with the final review of case study city poster boards. It will provide some background for the briefing. Although optional, attending it is highly encouraged and provides an opportunity to engage with students in the review dialogue.

The briefing will begin at 3pm with a summary debrief from the case-study review. Professor Acey will then provide a wider overview of the SDGs and summary beginning at 3:30pm. This overview will set up the planner/practitioner-student-professor discussion focused on forging new ideas that planners feel would be relevant for their work. The pre-Briefing and Briefing provide an opportunity for students and professionals to exchange ideas on this important topic and a forum for praxis (academia and practice informing each other). Light refreshments will be available.

Two previous UCB/APA sessions evaluated Bay Area sustainability through the lens of Plan Bay Area and the APA’s draft comprehensive plan criteria. This Briefing will focus on SD Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. In the semester-long upper division class project (CY Plan 119: Planning for Sustainability), 11 student teams evaluated how the Bay Area fits into global sustainability efforts through a case study pairing one Bay Area City and one international city around a key theme to see how they are locally tackling global sustainability. The city pairs and themes are as follows:

TUESDAY Dec. 8th (Pre-Briefing final case study review from 2-3pm. Briefing at 3pm)

  • Emeryville – Norwegian cities: Climate Change Adaptation
  • Oakland‐Belgium: Dealing with Port Pollution (or Toronto: Food Security)
  • San Jose – Brazil: Sustainability through Participation
  • Petaluma ‐ Yangtze River Delta: River Management
  • San Francisco – Greater Cairo: Brownfield Regeneration

THURSDAY Dec 10th (Pre-Briefing final case study review from 2-3pm. Briefing at 3pm)

  • Berkeley ‐ Niassa, Mozambique: Intermediate Cities
  • Dublin – Shenzhen: Sustainable Economic Development
  • Fremont – Santa‐Fe, Argentina: Intermediate Cities
  • Mountain View — Ahmedabad: Inclusion through Transport
  • Richmond – Melbourne: Greening the City
  • San Rafael – Lyon: Planning for Inclusion and Quality of Life

We look forward to meeting you and learning with you at this briefing.

Professor Charisma Acey & Scott T. Edmondson, AICP

[Charisma Acey, M.P.P., Ph.D., is Assistant Professor Department of City and Regional Planning University of California, Berkeley. 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.]


A description of the semester project is available here:   CP 119 Group Assignment Handout Fall 15. That description includes links to a set of key resources about the SDGs and the work of two previous classes on sustainability in the Bay Area.

Additional core documents include the following:

Materials from the last two CP 119 courses, include:

Last year’s memos to city planning directors on how to enhance the local sustainability value of Plan Bay Area here:

PDF — Conference Atttendance Summary















The “Wicked” Planning Problem of Bay Area Sustainability

One session at the APA California Conference in Oakland–Bay Area Sustainability:  Wicked Planning and Conflict Identification at Local and Regional Scales–addressed the value-laden challenges of sustainability planning and politics. This “class” of problem was christened “wicked” by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber in their seminal 1973 article.  As UCB Professors Charisma Acey and Karen Trapenberg Frick presented examples from their research and SF Planner, Scott Edmondson, provided the practitioner’s perspective.

In the seminal article that gave birth to the concept of wicked planning problems, an argument was put forth that that the scientific approach to problem solving, designed to deal with “tame” problems, was not up to the task in social policy domains such as urban design and city planning. In these social arenas, problems are not merely complex, they are ill-defined, constantly changing, and represent conflicting values about what constitutes the greater good. The abstract from the article follows:

The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has developed to deal with “tame” problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about “optinaal solutions” to social probIems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no “solutions” in the sense of definitive and objective answers.

The concept of “wicked” problem is useful for designers, planners and policymakers working on issues ranging from environmental justice to climate change and more. Recent conflicts and lawsuits over the goals and process of implementing the Bay Area’s climate mitigation plan reflect diverse formulations of the problem and thus priorities.

In this APA session, participants were introduced to specific tools for identifying conflicting values and land uses in local and regional sustainability planning in 11 Bay Area cities. The session also explored how planners can embrace the political theory of agonism to work through such conflicts by helping  adversarial stakeholders retain their core values while finding some common ground. The session reviewed materials developed in work done over a year-long sequence of courses at UC Berkeley evaluating comprehensive planning for sustainability and Plan Bay Area, as well as research published by the moderators. The session presented two conflict identification models–the planner’s triangle and the livability prism–which can assist planning professionals and other decision makers in identifying gaps or areas for improvement at various planning levels.

The topic can be pursued further through the following resources and by contacting the panelists.


1. Link to slide deck <<forthcoming>>

2. Rittel, Horst W.J., and Melvin Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Policy Sciences 4 (1973), 155-169, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Amsterdam, Scotland.

3. scroll down to the following IURD blog posts.

Measuring Urban Sustainability: Evaluating the APA’s New Sustainability Accreditation Criteria, posted February 3, 2015, by Charisma Acey.

Is there Common Ground Between Planners and Tea Party, Property Rights, and Other Activists, posted on November 10, 2014, by Karen Trapenberg Frick

4. Trapenberg Frick, K. (2014). Can planners find common ground with Tea Party and property rights activists on means even if they don’t agree on ends? California Planning and Development Report. Available at

4. Trapenberg Frick, Karen. “Actions of Discontent: Tea Party and Property Rights Activists Pushing Back Against Regional Planning,” Journal of the American Planning Association, 79 (2013), no. 3: pp. 190-200. Available at

5a. Trapenberg Frick, Karen, David Weinzimmer, and Paul Waddell. “The Politics of Sustainable Development Opposition: State Legislative Efforts to Stop the United Nation’s Agenda 21 in the United States,” Urban Studies February 2015 vol. 52 no. 2 209-232. Available at

5b. A summary of the Agenda 21 legislation paper is posted on a London School of Economics and Political Science blog at

6. Also,

7. And,

8. And,

[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.]

NEW Global Goal 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities

NEWS–The World Has New SD Goals

Historic Event. The Global Goals For Sustainable Development. “This weekend (Sept. 26-27, 2015) 193 world leaders committed to 17 Global Goals to achieve three extraordinary things over the next 15 years: end extreme poverty, fight inequality and fix climate change – in all countries, for all people.”

See Bioregional’s role and story (5 min vid) securing the Sustainable Production/Consumption Goal. It’s an inspiring example of:

  • A small group that worked for a long time to add their ideas to the SDGs.
  • A message to communicate, inspire, and motivate (text + vid)
  • The big effect one small sustainability initiative can have, bioregionalism, an old concept, and the One Planet Living sustainability framework.

SD Goal 11 — Sustainable Cities & Communities

And then, of course, they include SDG 11, just for us! The objectives stake out quite an ambitious agenda, even if not entirely concrete. Accomplishing this goal and its objectives by 2030 will require inventing the spatial manifestation of a regenerative economy, as in regenerative city-regions, on the fly, as we build one new city of 1M per week and reweave the existing urban fabric to achieve sustainable cities and communities, all within a generation. As local community sustainability planners, we have a new context in which to do our work.


This commitment to a new set of global goals for sustainable development is a “huge” deal. The Goals become the international sustainability baseline, touchstone, and driver of all UN related resources, programs, etc. ushering in an institutional change.

As great as these new goals are on one level, the discourse about them is often framed in “old school” concepts such as efficiency, mitigation, and a win/lose relationship between the economy and environment.

Yet, maybe the audacious goals of “ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and fixing climate change – in all countries, for all people” will push the creativity to the source challenges and transformational solutions, such as creating within one generation by 2030 the material basis for a sustainable society (and requirement for “fixing” climate change):

  • a regenerative ecological economy, including
    • 100% renewable energy
    • 100% materials cycling
    • 100% water reuse
    • with 10x the current economy’s productivity
  • and compliance with the 4 Sustainability Principles of the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD)

Regardless, the new goals are a huge sustainability accomplishment 23 years after Rio, and a big step forward. They are the new international conceptual foundation for creating a sustainable world.

[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.]

Sustainability at the APA California Conference 2015

The October 2015 Northern News, Plan-it sustainably Column summarizes the conferences sessions in terms of an emerging sustainability “pivot” from mitigation to regeneration. (see page 10)

One of our blog posts expands on the Emerging Sustainability “Pivot” Column.

Another blog post lists the Conference’s sustainability offerings:

In addition, these two PDFs of the two blog posts can be printed or downloaded.

[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.]

Too Late for 2 Degrees? The latest from the IPCC

. . . There is a lot of pressure to reduce greenhouse gases now, or else in 20 years we may have reached a point where scientists are not sure whether the conditions for life on Earth would be feasible.

“Dr. Thomas Stocker, Co- Chair of IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)  Working Group 1 and candidate for the IPCC Presidency, visited Costa Rica to meet with Government officials and gave a public presentation on 14 August 2015 at the Costa Rican Lawyers Bar Association.

Dr. Stocker is a physicist and head of the department of Climate and Environmental Physics at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The focus of Dr. Stocker’s research is the development of models of climate change based on, among others, the analysis of ice cores from the polar regions.

In his presentation, Dr. Stocker shared the latest findings on the global climate change situation, which are incorporated in the synthesis report that the IPCC publishes for policy makers. He mentioned that there was an effort to include simple and easy to understand statements about the current situation, showing that global warming is unequivocally occurring and that it is due mainly to burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.” (click here for rest of article).

An Interpretation

Part of the problem with the exceptional science of the IPCC is that it is so “accurate” and consistent with scientific method that it presents a false sense of possibility, and therefore underestimates and undermines effective lay understanding and public policy for the required response.

First, 2 degrees is presented as a safe limit, when in fact, 2 degrees is the borderline between possible safety and likely catastrophe, a limit to be avoided at all costs. The calculation of the remaining “budget” for GHG production, that is subtracting current cumulative emissions from the limit to achieve only a 2-degree warming, is a false budget. We don’t actually want to achieve production at the 2-degree level; we want to avoid it by as large a margin as possible. In addition, there is substantial disagreement over whether one or two degrees is the “safe” limit.  Ten years ago, the IPCC and discussion was focused on 1-degree. Because even reversing 1- or 2-degrees will take 150-300 years because of the long lag times and “stickiness” in the climate system, even avoidance will incur associated pain, suffering, and costs of temporary “adaptation” during the “mitigation” period, and thus, somehow been subsumed into an acceptable” level.  Finally, there is a wide margin of uncertainty in forecasting the behavior of complex systems. We may “hold” 2-degrees, or 1-degree, as the “safe” limit, but there are many catastrophic surprises possible even within those scenarios.

Second, that the “solution” and effective response is simply a “reduction” in GHGs. Based on current technology, “reducing” GHGs means a real decrease in economic production. If we were only speaking of reduction in luxury and excessive consumption among the “made” elite, the issue would be trivial and goal possible.  However, the global economy can only now support approximately 30% of the population of the planet at what can be characterized as a “restorative” standard, with the rest living in various states of deprivation.

The “reduction” needed to “solve” the climate crisis is not simply a “cut back” in excessive luxury production/consumption, BUT a transformation of the global-local economy that decouples human economic production from effects that compromise and ultimately destroy the regenerative life support capacity of the biosphere. Such a transformation involves the redesign of economic production, processes, and consumption that dramatically increases productivity (x10+) and substitutes materials that are rare in the biosphere with those that are common and plentiful (aluminum for lead, for instance). In addition, for processes where such benevolent substitutions are not possible, it would be necessary to create closed-loop production/consumption/disposal circuits to insulate the toxic human economy from the life generating biospheric system for the duration of the use of those toxic processes. Simple reduction, or doing less damage, is not longer a solution path. The pursuit of transformative paths that lead to net positive, restorative, and regenerative impacts is the solution path. This would include entering, reinforcing, and amplifying the generation and cyclic flows of materials through through the living system of the biosphere.

Third, time is of the essence, and therefore a massive global campaign of socio-economic transformation is essential for success.

Planning has a critical role to play in society’s effective response as follows:

1. Translating the “accurate scientific” understanding into an accurate basis for public policy and action under extreme conditions of uncertainty and dire consequences.

2. Convening the conversation that leads to effective action.

3. Illuminating the settlement pattern and performance parameters of urban and regional systems in a sustainable society in the biosphere (2D land use, 3D urban form, and multimodal transportation system).

[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.]

News from Rio — The New UN Agenda for Sustainable Development

What are the implications for Planning, and for your community’s sustainability planning initiatives, now that the world’s nations have reached a “Historic UN Agreement on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?”

“This is the first time in human history that the entirety of humanity . . . has come together in agreement on a set of 17 common goals with 169 targets — the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — for the future development of our world.  This new agreement . . . does three enormous and amazing things:

  1. Puts forward a set of longer-term, systemically integrated goals for the entire world
  2. Frames the process of reaching those goals in terms of “transformation”
  3. Erases the distinction between “developed” and “developing” countries, making the whole agenda universally applicable, across countries and even sectors.”

“This new integrated, transformative, universal approach will produce a revolutionary change in how the world talks about, funds, and then implements development work. This new approach is already causing ripple effects in government policy and planning around the world.”

Here is the urban goal:

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

  • Target 11.5: By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global GDP caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.
  • Target 11.b: By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels.


[Source: AtKisson, Wavefront. Prepared by Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, past co-director/founder, and current Research Program Lead, APA Northern Section Sustainability Committee.]

The Biophilic Value “Thickens”

Urban metabolism is one new emerging arena of urban planning and design. It complements two other more traditional arenas: the growth dynamic or the urban built environment, real estate development, land economics, and demographics, and (2) health and quality of life (QoL). <<cite forthcoming>>

In this tripartite scheme, biodiversity, biophilia, and integrating nature, or “habitat” into the city can be considered as another urban “infrastructure” or layer that links the built environment and urban metabolism. Defining habitat as “infrastructure,” as one of the “essential components of urban space, may add some “helpful” value etc. that it would not be perceived as present on its own. It adds multiple values to the other arenas too, objectively and qualitatively.

This is the “simple” answer, which may be as far as we need to go. However, if one goes a bit beyond the greenery, habitat, and biodiversity themselves, the plot thickens a little. And this thicker value may have some import that we would need to explore, develop, and package appropriately, as follows.

 Four Dimensions of a Biophilic City.  For instance, Timothy Beatley, in his field-forming book, Biophilic Cities—Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning, defines four dimensions of a biophilic city (see Chap3, pp 45-50, also 51-81): (1)  Biophilic Conditions & Infrastructure;  (2) Biophilic Activites (urban activation, stewardship programs);   (3) Bioplic Attigues and Knowledge (culture);     (4) Institutions & Governance (political support for and real spending on integrating nature in the city).

 More Definition.  As Tim says, “A biophilic city is at its heart a biodiverse city, a city full of nature, a place were in the normal course of work and play and life, residents feel, see, and experience rich nature—plants, trees, and animals.  . . .  We need contact with nature, and that nature can also take the form of shapes and images integrated into building designs (the young field of biophilic design (buildings, architecture) gave birth to Beatley and his biophilic city/planning). He goes on to say that there are “many ways in which” biophilic cities differ from green cities (or green urbanism, as in energy/eco efficiency).  A biophilic city is “a place that learns from nature and emulates natural systems, incorporates natural forms and images into its buildings and cityscapes, and design and plans with nature. . . . . The love and care for nature, the core value in biophilic cites, extends even beyond its borders to take steps and programs, and actions that help to defend and steward nature in other parts of the globe. . . .  For me, biophilic urbanism represents a creative mix of green urban design with a commitment to out-door life and protection and restoration of green infrastructure from the bioregional to the neighborhood level. . . . How much of a city’s budget goes to actively restoring and repairing nature and to educating, celebrating, and actively working to bridge the nature disconnect” is a key indicator of a biophilic city, of a city with strong, defining biophilic values.

 The Underlying Biophilia Hypothesis.  Embedded in the above is EO Wilson/Kellert (et. al.; citation forthcoming) biophilia hypothesis, that human brains are genetically hardwired to NEED daily contact with nature, and deeper contact, not only for normal emotional health, BUT for critical human development (baby thru young adult). It’s functions to provide a direct connection to a deep (and weak) core of human nature that is essential to know and to develop deeply to become fully human in relationship to yourself, others, and the natural world. In a sense, this argument is that there is a “core” set of essential human concepts and experience of them that is only available through contact with nature, and that these represent core human values needed to act well within the larger social and natural world.  The argument becomes a little clearer when we realize that some of the toolbox of human torture involves disconnection and deprivation from nature, and the effects are likely universally recognized as damage and violence against what it means to be human.

This may not be the best explanation of the hypothesis, but the presumption of the hypothesis is what shifts the value and imperative of biophilic city planning and design from optional but nice aesthetics to required and essential health; nature becomes a fountain or source of existential knowledge and grounding.

 Our “Mission Impossible” Design-Integration Synthesis.  As a result, if we are willing to “buy” some or all of this, and “accept” this mission impossible, then our task becomes embracing the development agenda and innovation involved in inventing this new arena of urban planning theory and practice, likely with a synthesis of ecological restoration, urban design, ecological city planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and maybe some engineering.  We would pursue how to understand biophilia and its implications for the built environment, how to incorporate nature into the built environment from room to building, to site, to block, to district, to city and beyond.

Another dimension of this, mission wis natural areas, and recreation and park resources too. All these dimensions of Biophilic city planning need to be represented in urban sustainability planning, regardless of where we situate it (Urban Metabolism, etc).  BUT stitching it all together to see/show/maximize the value generated for the whole city would be Planning’s, “job!”


[Posted by Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, founder/past co-director and current 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 Department.]

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.]

Getting to High Performance Districts, Cities, Regions & Sustainability

Charles Kelley, of ZGF Architects, presented his leading-edge approach and tools for designing high-performance districts to a core group of sustainability planners at SF Planning in late July. The idea arose from a conversation at a reception hosted by ZGF for the EcoDistrict Incubator program held in Portland this past spring. Charles and ZGF, along with other leading sustainability innovator-practitioner “pioneers” are advancing approaches and developing needed tools for high performance districts in their architecture and planning practices.  Their approach involves creating higher value through integration, which generates the revenue from eco-efficiency savings to produce the higher-quality places demanded today by private and public clients. This type of urban development has also become a strategy for municipal economic development based on attracting young high tech workers and firms.

This approach extends the familiar bits and pieces of good planning and urban sustainability (smart growth, public realm urban design, urban activation, transit, green infrastructure, and ecological urbanism) that we typically pursue in a “silo” mode, adds layers of habitat and ecological functions as new urban “infrastructure,” and integrates them in ways that generate cost savings (think energy/resource “eco-“efficiencies).

These efficiencies then become the funding source for creating higher-quality places than would arise otherwise from our mainstream “silo” based approaches. Clients and public are “demanding” these new places, and we need them in our 21st century cities. The approach is multi-scalar. It can be applied from the room to the region, and it leverages the right scale for a function (energy say) to optimize performance.

This next-generation approach to place making in turn generates another round of multiple benefits. The value it generates becomes the basis for 21st century municipal competitiveness (labor force) and community well-being (for all). This approach “sells” sustainability in terms of benefits people want—great place—and accomplishes them by generating eco-efficiencies in the background.

In addition, this approach is developing new modes of collaboration, stewardship, and partnership arrangements, extending traditional approaches that have been the hallmark of planning, urban design, and place making.  The newly emerging modes are informed by new urban governance trends and needs, as government’s capacity to meet public needs continues to be challenged and diminished directly by increasing revenue constraints and indirectly by our continually changing  economy. Accelerating economic change is accentuating inequality along with government capacity to meet needs. There no longer appears to be be a stable, safe, “middle” ground or class, only an accelerating small group of “jack-pot” winners and a large group of the rest of us “losers.” Ultimately, this trend will require a new “social contract,” and the beginnings of it may be addressed in this arena of new collaboration for new governance.

Another characteristic of this approach involves advancing practice a few steps at a time with each new project. This is accomplished by incorporating innovation into the larger culture and values of professional practice, AND even explicitly into a project’s scope of work and work plan as a routine component. This “innovation” in project planning and management provides the mechanism needed to “invent” our desired–and needed–future of durable prosperity and well being in great and sustainable 21st century places, cities, and regions “on the fly.”

This is a powerful emerging approach to sustainable urbanism because it “moves the ball” out of the failing “net negative” realm of doing-less-damage mitigation into the successful “net positive” realm of whole-systems thinking, planning, and management, and their associated lower cost synergies. However, it makes this shift with the familiar bits-and-pieces and terms of good planning, urban design, and ecological urbanism, but integrated in a NEW way that is self-funding. Of course, it is not a “silver bullet” nor the final word on sustainable or regenerative urbanism, but it takes us a long way without closing any doors otherwise, opens new doors along the way, and provides a powerful platform for future moves.

The following resources extend the points of the discussion and provide links to more resources, including the presentation slide deck.

NOTE: the last two document is excellent “primers” on the topic, although not going quite out as far as our presentation/discussion; They are worth downloading and skimming/reading at some point.

[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.]