Washburn

Urban areas as opportunity for innovation

green: environmentally sound or beneficial urbanism: the practice of creating human communities

Green Urbanism: the practice of creating communities beneficial to humans and the environment

After 7 weeks of talking about the building. I'd like to take this final blog opportunity to zoom out and talk about the city. Urban areas, because they are centers of intense resource consumption and waste generation, offer some of the greatest opportunities for environmental innovation. We've been spending a lot of time lately at Global Green talking about something called, ‘green urbanism'. Our working definition "the practice of creating communities beneficial to humans and the environment" is essentially the spirit and approach of green building writ at a larger, more holistic, scale. In a nutshell, green urbanism approach is to: • Apply green building principles, process, and technologies at the neighborhood scale • Link buildings, infrastructure, and natural systems. • Emphasize retrofit of existing urban areas • Focus on catalytic projects The burgeoning green building movement is testament to the broad interest in sustainable methods and materials within the design community. But there are limits to the green building movement. The focus on discrete buildings misses the rich opportunities for integration created by broadening the scope of effort to the neighborhood, district, city, and region. Natural systems are organic, integrated, and tenacious — ignoring manmade boundaries and weaving themselves through, over, and below our built environments. Shifting to a larger scale allows individual projects to function as building blocks in a larger system that functions at the neighborhood or district level. Green urbanism isn't a new topic; the theory builds upon precedents established by Patrick Geddes, Ian Mcharg, Anne Spirn, Michael Sorkin, William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and Timothy Beatley, but has yet to reach the mainstream in the planning profession in the way that green building has been embraced by the affordable housing industry. In fact, green urbanism is at the stage that green affordable housing was five to seven years ago. It's a concept that resonates intuitively and seems to hold great potential - but still lacks a clear set of principles and corresponding roadmap for how to operationalize the concept within the current planning and urban design paradigm. Therein lies the challenge. This is a challenge we look forward to working on in the year ahead. Our approach has its origins in one if the core tenants of urban planning, faith that a good process will lead to a good outcome. To that end we are focusing on defining not just principles but also a corresponding process. At the beginning of 2009 we plan to bring together leading thinkers in topics related to green urbanism to hopefully making a big leap forward in this intriguing and daunting undertaking. Later in the year, we'll be at speaking at the National Building Museum in Washington DC share our progress. If you've got thoughts, opinions, or ideas about green urbanism, send them our way. What do you think? Leave us a comment.   Walker Wells, AICP LEED AP, is Director of the Green Urbanism Program at Global Green USA and the editor and co-author of Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing.