Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Yearly Bleg: What makes a "sustainability" plan?

The grapevine in Charlotte is that we're gearing for a major initiative to green our Center City. So lately, I've been really thinking hard about this question. Studying other comprehensive plans to green a city, I've been trying to come up with a simple, yet effective, way to categorize strategies to green the city proper in a single comprehensive plan. I seem to be finding in my diagrams and notes that most physical improvements to a city need to focus more effectively on three sets of interrelated concerns for "sustainability": their actual physical make-up/impact, their relation to other systems, and their temporal scale. Sustainability is the innovation and re-negotiation, both within and between, these concerns. I call these categories "Places", "Links" and "Processes".

The diagram above, taken from a plan I participated in while taking an urban design studio in college, for example, represents the 'biorhythm' of a Cambridge city street and brings the temporal scale of a street to sharper focus. It is the most effective "streetscape" diagram I've ever known, because it tells me things about a street I have never observed. Approaches to sustainability have to be smart in this way...They have to make systems in space and time more legible before they can improve them. This begs the question: has anybody really created a "sustainability" plan for a city to date? Can Charlotte create a true sustainability plan? Or will it simply be the typcial greenwased compilation of voguish wish-lists and narrow initiatives that typically passes for a "sustainability plan"?

In the hope for further input and refinement, here is my first attempt to provide a step-by-step composition to an authentic sustainability plan for Charlotte. I would gladly welcome all critique and recommendation for reformulation to make it better...

A Good Plan will need to outline “Bridge” strategies for:

  1. Places: Context Sensitive Solutions that direct & structure growth; Green Urban Design; Housing; Open Space; Water Reclamation and Resources; Brownfield Rehabilitation
  2. Links: “Complete Streets”; A comprehensive multi-modal transportation strategy that insists on facility continuity and reduces dependence on the automobile to get from A to B; Green Infrastructure, including greenways, streams and wildlife corridors
  3. Processes: (a) Development-based: a process for creating and coordinating Links – most challenging of which is how to consider and integrate all transport modes; a process to better coordinate planning for Places; a process for incremental implementation that reduces future developmental impacts – i.e. “smart” infrastructure planning and material and resource recycling / saving / regeneration / recovery (b) Support-based: adaptability of infrastructure; agency coordination for green initiatives; environmental quality of service and maintenance; continuing stakeholder and community involvement; nurturing “green volunteerism”; marketing; programming and event planning; etc.
  4. Focused Energy, Air, Water and Climate Change Initiatives (integrating all the Links, Places and Processes above as relevant).
  5. Fine-level integration, sharing, adoption and improvement of Information Infrastructure in all of the above 4 items to process and understand feedback, improve system performance, remove harmful imbalances and optimize benefits… Some say this is the most critical component of sustainability planning – we will never improve effectively and rapidly ("leapfrog") without it. Recommended quick reading on this problem is the Spring ’08 issue of the Wilson Quarterly, which focused on smarter solutions for “America’s Infrastructure”.
  6. Implementation of all the above 5 (easier said than done, esp. when there are so many agents to involve).

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