Friday, November 8, 2013

Mutual Adoration Between Community & Citizens

Buying Local is hip. It's starting to be a "thing" people do. It's out there on bumper stickers, t-shirts, reusable grocery bags, and kitchen magnets. Like catch phrases before it, Buy Local is relishing in new-found glory and fame. And I couldn't be happier. Nothing starts my eco-heart a flutter then hearing people talk about shopping at locally owned stores, buying local foods direct from the farmer, and exhibiting a bit of care and concern for their community and its members. Truly makes this hippie girl go all mushy inside.

BUT....ever the one to question a good thing, I've been wondering lately what keeps people moving on that train? How does it keep gaining momentum and not lose the newness value? If we are selling the idea of supporting your local community, shouldn't we be making sure the community showing its appreciation for all the love and affection by giving back to the people? How, you may ask, could something as inanimate as a community do such an amorous act? Sustainable Urban Design and Planning. It's the logical choice, really. If you want community members to go downtown and shop, get their daily needs met, and show their appreciation for the shop-owners, then the appreciation has to be reciprocal for it to work. The design of our communities needs to be focused on clean air, green spaces, and proper management of roads and traffic flow. It has to be welcoming in order for people to keep coming back. Who wants to spend their money in a place that is directly opposing the values of the community members choices? They are shopping downtown, and keeping their money local, to say that they appreciate their community - let's make our communities worthy of this appreciation!

A design weblog,, takes a look at what we can do to create sustainable, inviting and people friendly urban communities by incorporating 8 different techniques.

1. SUSTAINABLE LAND USE PLANNING - This will eliminate urban sprawl, keeping cities compact, with a definite distinction between urban and rural. With this step, it's important to make the city walkable, provide excellent public transit, and provide clear bike lanes. The key is to not rely so heavily on our automobiles by making "alternative" transportation choices comfortable and effective. Take a look at this picture of NYC - love the walking lanes AND bicycle lanes!

Read "Walkable City" author Jeff Beck's letter to Waterloo Illinois about how to design for foot, bike, and contained automobile traffic.

Find out how your city ranks in walkability.

2. INNOVATIVE HOUSING DESIGNS - Mixed use buildings is the key here. In urban centers, incorporating a variety of housing options to handle the population is important - do not get stuck on high rises. Place apartments and condos over shops and build co-housing residential areas. Basically, you want to make sure that people of all income levels and lifestyles can live within urban limits, thus preventing urban sprawl. Take a gander at One Louden Place in D.C.

3. SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION & MOBILITY - If we are going to be planning cities less around the automobile, then I suppose we could incorporate better public transit. Driving your own car around town is not sustainable, but you can trust it to be reliable. That's why when designing urban centers, a solidly reliable public transport system is ideal - tram, rail, bus, metro - that runs on a sustainable energy source. Perhaps we could combine them all with this human powered cycling transport system.

4. GREENING THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT - Cities have eco-systems, they are not devoid of life, therefore we need to protect and encourage these healthy systems to thrive, even in urban settings. Sustainable planning would include strategies that nourish these systems by incorporating urban gardens, green rooftops, fruit trees, and more green spaces. A healthy community is a happy community. Lush greenery on roofs will help trap water and help with gray-water runoff.

5. RECYCLE & UPCYCLE - We have too much stuff, and it just keeps growing. We are becoming a world of single-use products....but where does all that junk go? sit....and rot.....and let off disgusting gases that are making us ill and infiltrating our water and soil. Recycle when you can, and upcycle if you're crafty. Check out Freecycle to unload items you no longer want - one humans junk is another's art. Also, do yourself a favor and watch this 20 minute film - you won't regret it.

6. ENERGY CONSERVATION & RENEWABLE ENERGY - We need to get up to speed on this. Using coal and petroleum as an energy source is silly! Not only are these fossil fuels a finite resource, but they are also the leading cause of pollution. Sustainable communities should include energy systems that are both efficient and affordable. Whether it's solar, wind, or water (or something else), writing these into city planning and retrofitting older buildings, will save the urban community in the long run. Also important to remember: the city government should lead the way in this charge, setting the example for the rest of the community. These wind turbines are called power flowers.

7. SUSTAINABLE BUILDING PRACTICES - Yes, yes, and yes. If you build it they will come. Urban centers that utilize LEED certified building practices, build with recycled materials, and use design that encourages less heating/cooling costs, will be inviting to residents and shoppers. Get hip to new design techniques by visiting the Green Building website. Check out this design guide from the Eco-Friendly House.

8. GREEN GOVERNANCE & ECONOMY - When the city government is "green," it paves the way for the rest of the community. To achieve this, the government has to evaluate how it delivers it's services and how it invests its money. A few examples: have all city buses run on biodiesel; switch out all city lights to solar-powered LED lights; turn off lights when the sun is out; reduce water usage; encourage employees to walk/bike or use alternative transportation. 

We are all part of the solution, as much as we are all part of the problem. These steps are just a few ideas on how we can create, design, and redesign communities to fit our changing lifestyles and planet. What are your favorite ideas to make your community give back to you?