Lecture Notes: Global Ideas for Local Growth


by Morgan Greenseth

New sustainable developments are happening worldwide. What can we learn from them? How can they be incorporated into our own communities? Last week at the Design for Livability: Doing Density Right conference, I heard Natasha Connolly speak about what her consulting and engineering firm, Arup, is doing and what we can learn from these case studies toward an integrated urbanism approach to planning and design.

The rising cost of oil and a variety of social issues are driving an increasing transformation of the traditional work model to include more telework and flex time options, leaving many offices empty. Live/work space is a solution to this that appeals to many. Arup worked with Middleton Construction in Yorkshire to create the plans for the Middleton Sustainable Community. The goal is to use as much on-site renewable energy as possible, and to combine housing and business uses to create a space where several major needs could be met within steps of home. The 16 live/work units in the community would be built into the natural hillside, and would use wood from the surrounding woodland in a bio-mass boiler, in addition to solar energy, for heat. The landscape plan also includes an on-site market garden.

After witnessing the destruction of communities around the world by multiple natural disasters of recent years, Connolly asserts that disaster resilience has become an important priority for design of new cities and spaces. Self sufficiency is one route to increasing disaster resilience. For example, she referenced the eco-city Dongtan in China. The city will produce its own energy from wind, solar, bio-fuel and recycled city waste, and will use hydrogen fuel cell-powered public transit. The first phase of construction is planned to be completed as a demonstration for the Shanghai Expo 2010.


Another of Connolly's examples came from China, where many are attempting to direct the nation's explosive urban growth in a more environmentally sensitive manner. Arup partenered with UC Berkeley to offer "EcoBlocks" as a suggested alternative to the 11 million dense high rise "super block" developments being built with traditional energy technologies every year.

The Eco Block design integrates energy conservative technologies and innovative systems to greatly reduce the development's environmental impact. One Eco Block is composed of 600 residential units in multiple-story townhomes and towers that surround courtyards. The areas are planned to encourage walking, cycling and the use of public transport. Limited underground parking is provided, and shared electric vehicles are available for residents. The Qingdao City Government is partnering with the Paul Allen and Family Foundation to fund the construction of a pilot EcoBlock in Qingdao. They are currently on Phase 2 of the project, and hope to begin design soon.

Finally, said Connolly, a more holistic approach to design and planning is necessary to achieve the kind of integrated systems efficiency that we need to reduce the environmental footprint of new developments. To assist designers with this big-picture view, Arup created The Sustainable Project Appraisal Routine. SPeAR is a four quadrant model that organizes the issues of sustainability into key areas of environmental protection, social equity, economic viability and efficient use of natural resources. Project teams use this to consider, plan for and report on sustainability performance.

Photo credit: Arup.

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