Sustainability Strategies

Sustainable Urbanism

Sustainable Urbanism is an emerging and growing design reform movement that combines the creation and enhancement of walkable and diverse places with the need to build high-performance infrastructure and buildings. It is an approach that encourages cities to begin to integrate walkable, transit-based transportation systems along with high performance green buildings and associated infrastructure into their current developments and ongoing plans. The concept focuses specifically on "sustainability and livability."

Sustainable Urbanism can be implemented in cities, towns, and neighborhoods through coordinated leadership and communication. The following tactics can be used to move a city into a more sustainable path:

  • Increasing sustainability through density

  • Integrating transportation and land use in an auto-dependent era

  • Creating sustainable neighborhoods with walk-to-work neighborhood centers of locally-owned businesses, car-sharing on every block, walkable neighborhoods and universal accessibility

Integrating Land Use & Transportation Decision Making

Transportation and land use planning are so intertwined by their nature that it is surprising they are commonly housed in different government departments with little conversation about their efforts. With better coordination, communities can plan more comprehensively for housing, commercial and retail uses, and for the provision of education and other public services, all in the context of accessible transportation. These efforts can result in the installation of a new public transit line, the construction of bicycle or pedestrian paths or the redesign of a heavily-used roadway, depending on the needs of the individual community. With its focus on providing options that meet local needs while protecting local assets, integrated land use and transportation planning offers flexibility and choice.

The development of a multimodal approach to land use and transportation planning strengthens the transportation system by providing redundancy and reducing demand on any single mode and by providing higher density development opportunities around intersecting modes. Increased use of alternative transportation will also benefit the environment by reducing air pollution and conserving open space. Further, the presence of multiple transportation modes in a community offers much-needed alternatives for children, elderly, disabled and low-income residents.

Strategies and Approaches:

  • Transportation planning should be an inclusive and holistic process involving all communities and groups impacted by transportation infrastructure. The construction of transportation infrastructure, whether roadways or public transit, has far-reaching regional implications. To achieve equitable results, to support desired patterns of land use, and to promote sustainable economic growth, transportation planning should be conducted as part of a larger regional effort to coordinate transportation with overall land use and development goals.

  • Partnerships with non-traditional stakeholders can provide a new perspective and therefore strengthen planning. These groups, who may often be uninvolved in traditional planning processes, can identify particular aspects of the relationship between transportation and land use that might not be widely recognized and can help to identify needs in the community that are not commonly addressed. Likewise, positive relationships with the local media are important in raising awareness about issues of livability and growth.

  • Fusing land use and transportation planning needs the support of strong leadership. The development and implementation of new planning methods is a challenge, requiring consistent support and promotion from all involved. Strong leadership, both at the individual and institutional levels, is crucial to give momentum and credibility to new ideas.

  • Private developments can be key components of public projects. Private retail and commercial developments can provide important revenue streams for public projects, particularly transportation projects, and can bring the crowds necessary to animate urban spaces and infrastructure. Furthermore, private development projects can also incorporate affordable housing and other important public services, such as grocery and drug stores.

  • The creation of new planning tools should aim to increase public involvement in the development of transportation and land use policies. Opportunities for "hands-on" work in identifying and solving problems, including techniques such as design charrettes and facilitated discussion groups, can offer an interactive and engaging experience not often found in the traditional public forums. Computer technology makes it possible for citizens not only to be informed, but it also provides an interactive learning experience through which people can better understand the process of planning. These opportunities allow non-professionals the opportunity to become directly involved in planning for the future of their communities, thereby fostering an environment of inclusion and increasing the possibility of a successful outcome.

  • Creative planning requires creative funding. Non-transportation funding sources - such as federal, state, and local government agencies, public and private foundations, non-profit groups, and the private sector can be used to supplement transportation funds for projects that have benefits in other areas such as housing, economic development or the environment. If local businesses feel they will benefit from a project, they may be willing to provide not only substantive input but also funding. Grant programs, such as the Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) Program, can support innovative aspects of larger projects, including the development of community-based planning efforts and the implementation of alternative transportation infrastructure.

Physical design is a largely overlooked but very important aspect of innovative planning. Innovative projects that result from the better coordination of transportation planning and land use policies - transit-oriented development, for example, or the construction of a residential community based on the values of sustainability - require not only comprehensive planning but also attention to design aesthetics. The quality of design matters for the attractiveness of the physical environment but also for the effectiveness, usability and successful integration of new development into existing settings.

Regional Planning Approach

A regional planning approach requires thinking beyond jurisdictional boundaries when designating land uses. It requires active collaboration among public entities at all levels of government to determine "big picture" land development and preservation goals.

Further, this approach highlights the cross-cutting and multi-layered nature of land use issues. A promising strategy to achieve sustainability is to work cooperatively across boundaries to protect and manage land. For example, the impact of a cross-border greenspace can be much greater than attempts to protect open space in one city alone.

A regional planning authority can ensure all residents, regardless of income, live and work near and have access to nature, areas for recreation and leisure, and public spaces that bring people together and connect them to their community.

A regional planning entity will also help to streamline land and transportation planning processes to maximize efficient use of space. Transportation plans that connect across municipal boundaries are important in our growing metropolitan areas. In fact, in many major cities such as Atlanta, Phoenix, and Chicago a majority of the workforce commutes from outside city limits. As a region grows and develops, this region-wide system will be able to expand, diversify, and mature to meet the needs of a growing and changing population.