Bringing Sustainability and Urbanism Together
by Daniel K. Slone
There are numerous benefits to fusing sustainable development and urban development concepts. Moreover, pedestrian-oriented, urbanist-project approaches have been vigorously embraced by many environmental groups. It is not, however, intuitively obvious to everyone why high-density, extensively hardscaped projects would be good for the environment.
First, there are some adverse consequences that do accrue if density is merely clustered without appropriate design. Aggregate air and water (surface and groundwater) impacts may be more significant and harmful than smaller, dispersed impacts that are more easily diluted and absorbed.
Second, numerous projects are advanced as urbanist projects despite the fact that they do not meet the basic criteria for urbanist projects. Often the ways these projects have been diluted or hybridized means that they cannot deliver the hoped-for benefits of urbanism, including the environmental benefits. In some instances, projects pretending to be New Urbanism have been simply a pretty way to sprawl or to deliver density without parks or connected streets, and are designed in such a way that few social or environmental benefits occur.
Even when the principles of urbanism are appropriately applied, the project falls short if it is missing elements of sustainability. Although the environmental benefits of locating in an urban neighborhood, particularly one with transit opportunities, are significant and certainly exceed the environmental benefits obtained in sprawl, this in and of itself is not adequate.
Thus, while there are many social and environmental benefits to urbanism — even without sustainable principles — and it is almost always "better than sprawl" from an environmental perspective, it is not nearly good enough by itself to address the needs of the future. By itself, "better than sprawl" is still a weak standard.
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This article is excerpted from A Legal Guide to Urban and Sustainable Development for Planners, Developers, and Architects by Daniel K. Slone and Doris S. Goldstein, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.
Live-work buildings, such as the Prospect in Longmont, Colorado, can help reduce vehicle-miles traveled (VMT), a common goal of sustainable urban design.
Photo: Courtesy Sara N. Hines
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Live-work solutions have existed for many years, as in the case of this building in Warren, Rhode Island, built in 1883.
Photo: Ron Pollard Photography
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