In 2013-2014, the Future We Want (FWW) will develop and demonstrate a new model for sustainable urban development in the United States. The project will respond to three important trends: rapid urbanization; the growing but as yet unsatisfied market for walkable mixed-use neighborhoods within existing cities; and the increasing urgency of challenges that did not exist in 1987 when the Brundtland Commission first defined sustainable development.
The project’s objectives are to:
- Update the concept and standards of urban sustainability to address contemporary needs and opportunities;
- Create a new model for urban sustainability and apply it to infill development in an existing U.S. neighborhood;
- Demonstrate a process that involves the neighborhood’s residents in identifying the future they want, and that helps them integrate their vision with new urban sustainability model.
- Evaluate the project, including the impact of visualization on public understanding of and support for sustainable development, and distribute the results to the U.S. sustainable development community.
The Urban Model Today:
The current model for urban development in the U.S. sprawling, car-dependent cities. This model is being replicated worldwide, but it is not sustainable. We need a new model. Its liabilities include traffic congestion and lost productivity, excessive commuting and vehicle miles traveled, air pollution and public health problems, and unequal access to city services for those who do not own or cannot drive automobiles and the consumption of fuels responsible for global climate change. We clearly need a new model.
Responding to Dynamic Demographics:
Current demographic and housing preference trends in the United States offer an opportunity to demonstrate that new model – a new prototype – for urban infill development.
Infill development has become common practice in U.S. cities. Between 2000 and 2007, 33 of the 37 U.S. urban areas with more than 1 million population experienced higher density than in 2000. Urban infill development reduces infrastructure costs, preserves farmland and open space, and reduces commuting time and vehicle miles traveled, which in turn reduces energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution from transportation to the benefit of public health.
Development within urban footprints will accelerate in the years ahead. A variety of factors will influence this trend, including rising energy prices, the impacts of climate change and the Baby Boom tide of adults reaching retirement age and no longer needing larger homes for their families. Recent research indicates that nearly 60 million new housing units will be needed in the United States from 2000 to 2030 to accommodate the rising number of households. Based on current preferences for housing types, the need for new units will be equally divided between apartments, townhouses, condos and small-lot houses. No net increase is expected over the net 20 years in the market for houses on larger lots.
Younger generations also prefer urban living in mixed-use and walkable neighborhoods close to urban amenities. When polled, 75% of Americans say they would prefer to live in mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods rather than large-lot sprawling suburbs.
Avoiding the Pitfalls:
Although it offers many social and environment advantages, urban infill development can be done badly. In a rush to maximize their profit from these new market opportunities, builders may construct inefficient buildings and use conventional neighborhood designs on underutilized land in urban centers. Higher density populations can increase traffic congestion, produce more stop-and-go traffic and emit higher levels of pollution. Upgrading existing urban infrastructure to serve these populations can cost more than new infrastructure on greenfield sites . Infill development also can be more complicated than suburban development; while a single developer can call the shots in a suburban housing project, many stakeholders are involved in urban projects. And sustainable infill development is an unknown that seems riskier than conventional practice.
Step 1: Recruit a Team of Leading U.S. Sustainable Development Experts.
We will identify and recruit 25 U.S. thought leaders who represent a variety of sustainable development disciplines. We will convene this group in a 3-day conference to consider if and how the customary standards of sustainable development should be updated to address contemporary opportunities, issues and technologies. We also will task the experts with analyzing existing sustainable community performance measures and rating tools to determine if they are sufficient for today’s opportunities and needs.
Step 2: Develop Performance Criteria for a Prototypical Urban Village that Meets New Standards for Sustainability.
Based on their conclusions in Step 1, the 25 thought leaders will develop updated standards for sustainable development in urban environments, given the global flow of population to cities. The FWW Team will facilitate an exercise by the experts to apply the standards to create a cross-sectorial, cross-disciplinary prototype of a sustainable urban village where infill development has been blended with the existing built environment.
Step 3: Create a Pilot Urban Neighborhood in the Heart of the United States
The FWW Team will demonstrate the prototype in the River Market neighborhood of Kansas City (See our FAQ for an explanation of why this neighborhood has been chosen). The Team will begin by surveying residents to establish a baseline of their understanding of and support for sustainable development; meeting local leaders to identify key issues, building codes, zoning ordinances and other policies; gathering information on utility costs, demographics, ecological footprint and other factors; doing an on-site inspection of the neighborhood to gather information on its ecosystems and micro-climates, physical layout, traffic patterns, green spaces, urban heat island characteristics and other features that will impact its development choices. The landscape analysis will help determine the neighborhoods potential to:
- Repurpose vacant properties for economic reuse;
- Increase density to achieve cost-effective resource efficiency with district energy systems, combined heat and power, distributed renewable energy systems and other infrastructure;
- Achieve transit-oriented development objectives to increase non-vehicular mobility for all residents;
- Utilize advanced cost-effective green building designs and features;
- Create job-training opportunities in the construction trades as infill development occurs;
- Demonstrate infill development with minimal impact on ecosystems and ecosystem services, and optimal reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants;
- Increase local resilience to extreme weather and to other economic and environmental risks;
- Incorporate green buildings and site features aesthetically into the existing neighborhood.
Step 4: Help the Neighborhood Identify Its Vision.
A community’s vision often is latent, hidden in unspoken things people like and don’t like about the places they live, and embodied in their aspirations for better lives. Assisted by civic engagement tools from PlaceMatters and joined by a small group of selected experts, the FWW Team will facilitate a weekend-long charrette in which stakeholders in the River Market neighborhood become their own designers by revealing their latent visions. The process will be conducted in a town-hall setting involving all ages and elements of the community — civic organizations, schools, local artists, elected leaders, thought leaders, homeowners, renters and so on.
Joined by a small group of experts selected on the basis of the information gathered in the landscape analysis, the FWW Team will:
- Expand the neighborhood’s menu of choices by alerting it to design principles and technologies its residents and stakeholders might not be aware of;
- Help stakeholders synthesize their ideas and reach consensus on their vision;
- Create several conceptual drawings that give form to the neighborhood’s vision;
- Present the conceptual drawings to stakeholders and, based on their feedback, narrow the options to 1-3 preferred designs.
Step 5: Create a Virtual Neighborhood.
After the charrette, the FWW Team will calculate the environmental, social and economic impacts of the selected designs, using full-cost life-cycle analysis including a tool recently developed by the U.S. Department of Energy to measure the social costs of carbon.
The Team will render the design that best meets contemporary sustainable development standards, embodies the neighborhood’s vision, and is most cost-effective. The result will be emotionally compelling interactive visualizations. The visualizations will consist of video, computer animations and/or other visual technologies. Videos of neighborhood residents will be incorporated to illustrate the range of the design’s likely lifestyle impacts. In addition to aerial and streetscape views, the visualizations will include interiors of green residential and commercial buildings to illustrate whole-building design.
The visualizations will be unveiled to the community in an evening town-hall meeting, posted on Kansas City’s web portal, and shown on local television.
Distribute Results Nationwide and Worldwide.
Based on the River Market experience, the FWW Team will evaluate lessons learned to modify the performance criteria of the urban village prototype developed in Step 2. The FWW will circulate the results of the project to U.S. sustainable development practitioners, organizations and interested communities via the FWW web site, DVDs, webcasts and public presentations. The results will include the kit of parts described on Page 6. a model process to build visions of sustainable neighborhoods; guidance on the most effective use of visual arts and technologies; and recommendations on building local support for full-spectrum sustainability.