Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Just How "Sustainable" Is Your Community?

Sustainable Communities Require "Design On A Human Scale"

For the better part of half a century, planning to Long Island has been what landscaping is to the lunar surface -- non-existent.

Along the Main Streets of America's oldest suburb, a hodgepodge of oversized signs, disjointed storefronts, crumbling infrastructure, and downright ugly.

In most communities, "downtown," where there is one, is a conglomerate of vacant stores, disfigured facades, and ill-conceived notions of zoning, honoring sustainability, livability, and even shopability more in the breach than in the practice.

"Walkable?" Hardly. "Welcoming?" No way. A place where people live, work, shop, and recreate? Forget about it.

Today, we begin a look anew at what it takes to create and maintain a sustainable community. This is a continuation, actually, of the discussion begun on this blog years ago, and interspersed throughout for consideration of the masses and the movers alike.

Regional planning boards, county planning commissions, town and village zoning boards notwithstanding -- or, perhaps, as a result of their standing practices to largely ignore the valuable lessons of "smart growth" and "sustainable communities" -- we have borne witness not only to the urbanization of suburbia, but to the growing brownfield effect that threatens both sense of place and sense of well being.

If life on Long Island, as we knew it (or at least dreamed it would be), is to be "sustained" -- for us , let alone our children -- we need to start thinking outside that traditional box we've locked ourselves into, or, at the very least, to open up that box, letting in the cleansing light of day, and that breath of fresh air.
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Sustainable Community Practices

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Center for Communities by Design, as part of its continuing effort to enable a dialogue and the resources to support livable communities, introduces the first draft of a selection of prominent sustainability practices. The information outlined in this document offers a general overview of how-to guidelines, community indicators/benchmarks, and other similar sources as a reference starting point to understand the very broad and wide-ranging field of community sustainability. In particular, this selection is an approach to facilitate Benchmarking Models to Evaluate the Sustainability of a Community in their relationship to the AIA's 10 Principles for Livable Communities Including Benchmarking Models equipping both architects and their communities implementing sustainable practices.

The AIA's 10 Principles for Sustainable Communities

Design on a Human Scale: Compact, pedestrian-friendly communities allow residents to walk to shops, services, cultural resources, and jobs and can reduce traffic congestion and benefit people's health.

Provide Choices: People want variety in housing, shopping, recreation, transportation, and employment. Variety creates lively neighborhoods and accommodates residents in different stages of their lives.

Encourage Mixed-Use Development: Integrating different land uses and varied building types creates vibrant, pedestrian-friendly and diverse communities.

Preserve Urban Centers: Restoring, revitalizing, and infilling urban centers takes advantage of existing streets, services and buildings and avoids the need for new infrastructure. This helps to curb sprawl and promote stability for city neighborhoods.

Vary Transportation Options: Giving people the option of walking, biking and using public transit, in addition to driving, reduces traffic congestion, protects the environment and encourages physical activity.

Build Vibrant Public Spaces: Citizens need welcoming, well-defined public places to stimulate face-to-face interaction, collectively celebrate and mourn, encourage civic participation, admire public art, and gather for public events.

Create a Neighborhood Identity: A ''sense of place'' gives neighborhoods a unique character, enhances the walking environment, and creates pride in the community.
Protect Environmental Resources: A well-designed balance of nature and development preserves natural systems, protects waterways from pollution, reduces air pollution, and protects property values.

Conserve Landscapes: Open space, farms, and wildlife habitat are essential for environmental, recreational, and cultural reasons.

Design Matters: Design excellence is the foundation of successful and healthy communities.
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How many of the AIA's principles are applied by the zoning/planning officials in the community where you reside?

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