ULI Book Outlines Ideas and Designs on Sustainability

By Anuradha Kher, Online News EditorIrvine, Ca.–The Urban Land Institute’s newly released book called Developing Sustainable Planned Communities outlines strategies to design and develop sustainable planned communities that are environmentally responsible, attractive to the market and profitable. The book, which eight sustainability experts contributed to, is a practical guide with case studies that cover green practices in urban, suburban and rural settings.“The authors trace the evolution of planned communities over the last 40 years with case studies illustrating how the definition of sustainability has changed over that period of time, what it is today and how it can be implemented,” says Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute.Historically, planning for community-scale development projects has been linear. It starts with land acquisition, market analysis and engineering studies and is followed by conceptual planning, design, and construction. “But this approach does not consider the interrelationships between systems, either constructed or natural. Soils, sunlight, hydrology, flora or fauna have ripple effects and unforeseen consequences,” says Steve Kellenberg, principal of EDAW, Inc., and contributing author who has written a chapter in the book titled Integrated Planning and Design.Kellenberg, who is the leader of EDAW’s sustainable communities initiatives, stresses the importance of the team mindset. “The team must think about its goals in a different way, in which interconnectedness and cause-and-effect are part of every decision.” Otherwise, he warns, “the team may abandon high-performance practices in the face of tight schedules, budgetary constraints, or skepticism from many fronts. The mindset shift must occur at the highest management levels; otherwise the team will not be empowered to make tough decisions.”“Whole system thinking is the crux of an integrated planning and design process,” Kellenberg says. A developer who utilizes an integrated process is in a better position to achieve a higher standard of sustainable design, save money, and enjoy a higher return on investment.  “In the final analysis, an integrated planning approach is the surest way to go green without breaking the bank,” he notes.Covering a broad spectrum of sustainable elements and related planning issues from landscaping to energy and resource conservation to ethnic diversity, Kellenberg believes sustainable development must take into account the regional context in which a project is located. “Communities are not sustainable entities when conceived as independent islands of development,” he explains. “To be socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable, they must be integral components of larger systems, both natural and constructed.”Kellenberg tells MHN that one of the biggest challenges facing any builder who wants to build sustainable communities is that “despite all the rhetoric and talk of sustainable development, there is a dearth of information on cost of construction. The lesser the information, the more the risk for builders.”While several challenges are common to most projects, multifamily projects face some unique challenges, Kellenberg tells MHN, “For single-family homes, putting solar panels is easy, but with multifamily homes, questions about who will bear the cost of the project, how it will be metered etc. complicate the project. Another challenge with multifamily housing is that attached housing is less wasteful to begin with, the savings too are much smaller and less of an incentive to the builders.” Things that multifamily housing builders are doing:1. Build homes with optimum solar orientation. For example in areas with cold climate, a house with plenty of sunshine will help in reducing the amount of heat consumed.2. Designing homes with natural ventilation. This will enable homes in hot climate to cool down automatically reducing the usage of air conditioner.3. Use of reclaimed water for flushing. Water from washing machines and dishwashers is filtered and used for flush. This saves potable and fresh water.4. Linking together green infrastructure.5. Locating projects along transportation corridors, seeking proximity between offices and housing and creation of urban cores.Caption: Green building at Terramor Village in Ladera Ranch used energy conserving building construction techniques, natural lighting and ventilation, low VOC paints, low E windows, and other sustainable building practices. Terramor Village at Ladera Ranch isthe largest solar powered community in the United States. A central open-space system  serves as biofiltration and multimodal linkage to dual village cores.