Sustainable Planning & Green Development
Sustainable planning and green development are the most important processes a community can undertake. Everyone deserves to live in a clean, safe, and green community. But, it takes everyone in the community pulling together to secure this vision.
This process begins by loving your community well, caring for your neighbors, and becoming more future-minded. The wonderful paradox is that being future-minded also makes your life today better, too. By being just a little more conscious today, we can all live fuller lives, build a better tomorrow and pass down a legacy to our children.
Note: This page will be updated regularly to correspond with future posts in Green Heart Town.
Public & Private Partnership
Planning for sustainability means promoting responsible new development. Forward-thinking towns use a more democratic process of planning so everyone benefits. Equal involvement from community members and city government can be a lot of fun, and gives everyone ownership.
Finding like-minded community members is a great way to make a difference. Grassroots groups with a strong vision and gain public consensus, assist local government in decision-making process and connect developers and investors with sustainable thought leaders.
Community-driven sustainable development works because those involved are invested and have something to gain.
Lasting communities always give the natural world precedent when decisions may affect the character of the land. The land is a singular attribute that has been there since the beginning. A strong sense of place and access to natural resources are often why settlers chose to build your town.
Community Profit means putting people over profit in the sustainable development equation. Communities may think they are being productive by landing big “deals” with box-boxes, boastful developers and industrial park queens, but they should listen to common sense.
Before a community expands its infrastructure for new jobs or increased tax base, they should analyze the expected life-cycle of the opportunity. They should also make sure it meets the goals of protecting natural resources, and aligns with community sustainable planning goals.
Community profit is like Monopoly money. Transactions occur each time planning and development practices affect the lives of townspeople. The community gains when sustainable planning and green development goals are attained.
Vital neighborhoods are authentic, cohesive and full of life. No matter where you live, there is a formula for making your neighborhood stronger and more vital. It only takes relationships with your neighbors to begin.
A lot of cool things are beginning to happen at the neighborhood level. Historic neighborhoods are breathing new life, interesting common spaces are forming, and in the suburbs people are taking down the back fences.
After decades of relying on our car and falling out of touch with one another, many of us want to turn things around and enjoying being together again. Today, neighborhoods are being used as a mechanism for all kinds of things: growing a young family, intentional living for seniors, green living, even net-zero energy neighborhoods.
Building vital neighborhoods means respecting the principles that worked for our town fathers while embracing today’s opportunities. We need to look back and understand our development patterns and the kinds of neighborhoods we have created over time.
No matter where you live, there is a formula for making your neighborhood stronger and more vital. It only takes relationships with your neighbors to begin. Let’s oppose the suburban culture of garage-faced streets. Let's turn things inside out!
Livabilty & Walkablilty
Livability and Walkability are not new concepts. By design, early town development included both, naturally. It was the way of life then, and places were built around human needs.
The sad truth is that in the past half-century we have lost this way of life, and allowed our reliance on the automobile to shape our neighborhoods. Most modern residential neighborhoods were not designed to facilitate walking (or biking) to nearby destinations. To boot, there may not be anything other than other homes “nearby”.
The suburbs are not the only place with problems. As practitioners of sustainable planning and green development, we need to look at opportunities for redevelopment in-town, too. Many in-town places have underutilized spaces and vacant buildings crying for redevelopment.
As a place to begin understanding livability and walkability, use the AARP Livability Index to learn more about your community's quality of life.
Then, visit walkscore.com and enter your address into the search.
These two resources are excellent ways to get a feeling for places you live, or are considering living.
According to the Project for Public Spaces - the pioneers of this approach - Placemaking is “the art and science of developing public spaces that attract people, build community by bringing people together, and create local identity.”
Neighborhood placemaking focuses on building better relationships with others living nearby. Traditionally, next door neighbors have a high chance of becoming close friends. They watch over your home from the security of their own.
Innovative Planning & Zoning
Sustainable Planning and Green Development do not happen naturally. Progressive communities are weaving these ideals into comprehensive development plans. The trick is making sure that the process of looking toward the future is done in open collaboration between the City, community and planning experts.
Innovative land-use planning and zoning works to solve the existing shortcomings and develop new opportunities without physically extending a community.
A comprehensive plan records decisions on land-use planning, transportation, downtown/urban design, natural resources, and infrastructure. It sets the stage for sustainable planning and green development, if these ideals are embodied in the spirit of the plan.
Environmental Characteristics Zoning
Every place has a unique landscape and natural resources. Everything was in balance before settlement. Environmental characteristics zoning approaches proposed development as something to be integrated sensitively into the natural landscape.
Natural Habitat Protection
Every natural habitat deserves to be treated with care. Human development should tread lightly, and selectively. Preservation of green open space, green belt areas, prime farm land, clean water, and dark night skies are but a few details that future planning should address.
Smart Growth is essentially economically efficient community development. Some of the principle include preserving open space, limiting outward expansion, promoting infill construction, and, redesigning neighborhoods with New Urbanism ideals.
The principles of New Urbanism align closely to development before the prevalence of the automobile. Streets become places again for people, and walks to community buildings and shopping is integrated. Less width is given for each car, and sidewalks, trees, and front porch charm create engaging places for neighborhood relationships to grow.
A common definition of insanity, attributed to Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The truth is community development may seem as complicated as quantum uncertainty, but it does not need to be.
Sustainable planning and green development are guided by principle of sustainability, where people, planet and profit are all in balance. We only need to re-frame our thinking into that paradigm.
Traditional Neighborhood Redevelopment
Most established neighborhoods have potential for redevelopment. Neighborhood revitalization, infill development, mixed-uses, and concepts of placemaking can give them new life and add new value.
Density, diversity, mixed modes of transportation, and mixed-use development have all been the standard of sustainable development for centuries. Today we can do it better than ever.
Our cities have changed, as many people “commuted” to suburban areas. The void that has been left, created opportunities near the heart of town. Now, young and old alike are finding new ways to enjoy nearby amenities and live simply again.
Suburban Retro-fit & Repair
A lot of cool things are beginning to happen out in suburban neighborhoods too. Innovative planning and placemaking is at work in many “heartless” places, giving them safe, walkable (and bikeable) destinations.
Facilitating more active and engaging lifestyles will get people off the couch and outdoors together. The “nothing to do” blues is a fun problem to defeat. Working with others in your neighborhood, along with City official, and planning consultants is a good approach to retrofitting and repairing suburban areas.
Smart Neighborhoods & Eco-Districts
Green-hearted folks have been creating communities together since long ago. Today, smart neighborhoods and Eco-districts are becoming more mainstream ideas.
Savvy developers are finding that the decreased impact from sustainable development (or redevelopment) and green living work beautifully together with large-scale public infrastructure improvements. We will explore some examples of this in different sized communities.
I think of this as “pure urban magic”. In truth, sharing infrastructure is an excellent way to lighten your environmental footprint.
Down-scale / Mixed Use Development
Scaling down homogenized, suburban-style development is a key change that American planners need to advocate. There are some great things happening, and historic precedent to compare them to for further wisdom.
Conservation sub-divisions are greener alternatives than typical suburban development. They should be considered when the land has been undeveloped, and the developer is seeking to maximize infrastructure efficiency. Wildlife and the natural ecosystem cries in delight when their lives are not disrupted for someones large patch of graded lawn.
Often, City government will work with you to increase density per acre, in order to maximize green open- space. Cluster development works very well in conservation areas, in order to leave the majority of the land in its natural state.
Pocket Neighborhoods are an American typology that first existed in historic vacation communities and California bungalow-courts. They are typically a group of small homes gathered around a community green space and other amenities. They work equally well in-town and in conservation areas. They are a place for intentional living for any generation and family type.
Ross Chapin is the modern master that has revived this typology. It just makes sense as an option for aging Baby-Boomer and Millennial, alike. Visit his website to learn more.
These kinds of projects are a personal favorite for us. There are a couple conceptual layouts in our Gallery.
Green Living/ Nature Conservation
If you love getting your hands in the dirt, collecting rainwater, and hands-on care for the natural habitat surrounding your home, then you should live into this reality. The good news is you do not have to live on a farm to develop your naturalistic tendencies. There are some easy ways to get into green living.
Off the Grid, Smart Urban, Smart Urban Villages, Intentional Community, Eco-village
Living on your own terms is important to a select few people. In truth these folks are ahead of their time. They understand that sustainability lies in minimizing use of our fragile resources.
Technology and education are improving at an exponential rate, and very low-energy buildings are becoming an attainable reality for those interested.
Ecological/ Environmental Restoration
In previously-developed areas, ecological and environmental restoration can provide renewal for the land and the community. Being a good steward of the land is paramount, and there are usually grant programs aimed at assisting redevelopment efforts on damage lands. Sustainable solutions must be profitable, after all.
Low-impact development (LID) typically refers to management of storm water in urban areas. I also like using this term to convey having a light footprint on the land. Keeping the land porous so that groundwater can recharge and heat-island affects are minimized.