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.

  1. thembi

    Brilliant idea. Will be happy to follow your plans as your vision develpps… great work and informatiom

  2. As long as the results of the charrette are limited to a presentation, fine do whatever you want.

    But when it comes to actually changing a neighborhood, you shouldn’t be selecting who are the thought leaders, putting renters on the same level as owners, and having kids voting.

    Maybe the local artists would like more art space. That doesn’t make it someone else’s job to pay for it.

    • Akina

      “But when it comes to actually changing a neighborhood, you shouldn’t be selecting who are the thought leaders, putting renters on the same level as owners, and having kids voting. ” (David Quinn)

      I think one of the most beneficial ideas of this project is demonstrating how a community can work together to make decisions for the benefit of all involved, regardless of the individual’s social stratification status within that community.

      Eliminating the voice of an ever-growing population of renters (or any one group) will likely result in a community that does not consider their needs, and thus an unhealthy community, where the people within it do not feel valued and thus become less likely to contribute. People are more likely to contribute when they feel their talents, opinions, and previous contributions are valued. Just because someone “owns” the land, does not make them a more valuable contributor to the community. Why should “owners” get more of a say in community development, especially when this project is talking about utilizing properties and redesigning systems that are currently held as public property or public utilities? (Energy systems, transportation systems, and updating public building structures with sustainable technology were all mentioned in step 3 above.)

      Additionally, although children do not necessarily yet have the brain development to make objective observations and decisions as well as some adults, they are capable of generating many creative ideas, often at a rate much faster than most adults (this is due to the plasticity of their brains). Furthermore, children are going to have to deal with the consequences of today’s decisions for a longer time than the adults making the decisions. This is why children’s voices are currently being heard at the state supreme court level in a few states processing climate change/global overheating litigation. (ourchildrenstrust.org)

      (By the way, a human male adult’s prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain responsible for the higher level thinking of homo sapiens, does not finish developing until age 28-30. For human females the age range is only slightly lower: 24-26, well above age 18. Oh and psychologically speaking the majority of adults in the U.S. have not yet reached 4th order social consciousness, the minimum level required to make effective decisions for a diverse group of people. This is possibly due to a lack of experience working in, with, and understanding diverse groups of people. Perhaps, exclusion based on the amount of time since expulsion from the womb is an outdated practice.)

      What reasoning do you offer for why you suggest excluding these groups?

  3. Beetesha Kearney

    I want to be apart of this I want my kid to have something to look forward to and to hopefully help in giving the world the push it needs to make this happen for our future as a society.

  4. Hi everybody. I’m here to introduce you the UrbanFarmTrading web app. Grow and trade food locally and get off-the-grid. htp://urbanfarmtrading.org is a non-profit, self-sustainable community. Give it a try, it is free, forever.

  5. What an inspiring vision! We also welcome it to Uganda, East Africa.

    Never give-up!

    Maggie

  6. This is great! I applaud you for your commitment to develop and demonstrate a new model for sustainable urban development in the United States. I’m also a bit jealous that KC will be your testing ground. Montpelier,VT recently committed to going Net Zero and my organization, Energy Action Network, is convening key stakeholders to develop a plan and make that vision a reality. Would love to follow your process more closely so we can learn from you and share our experience as well. Please let me know how we can best do that. Keep up the great work!

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