Last week, we were honored to participate in CFGBA’s ‘Sustainable Community Design Panel,’ which included Buddy Milliken, developer of Woodsong, Phil Prete, City of Wilmington’s Environmental Planner, and Burrows Smith, developer of River Bluffs. The discussion was moderated by Christopher Yermal, of Old School Rebuilders, and included questions like “How would you define sustainable site design?’ and “What hurdles do you face in the design and development of sustainable communities?’ The composition of the ‘ideal’ design team was explored, as well as the issue of density. The panel had about an hour to cover these broad topics, and although the discussion was lively and informative, we (B+O!) feel that we’d like to continue the discussion here, where we can be as long-winded as we like!
Sustainable community planning. After differentiating between the terms ‘site’ and ‘community,’ which were used interchangeably (?!) in the questions asked of the panelists, and defining the word ‘sustainable,’ as it pertains to design, we wanted to provide our definition of the phrase….
For B + O, sustainable community planning is the design of shared space that attempts to reconcile ecology, building, and human geography. These spaces should be diverse, dense, walkable… and they should incorporate and celebrate nature.
One of our favorite ‘small neighborhood scale’ projects, Tonbo Meadow, was referenced obliquely (and favorably) during the discussion…it was the one with 7 requested (and granted!) variances. For anyone who wanted to ask, and didn’t…all permits are in hand, and infrastructure should start soon. One of the questions regarding ‘hurdles’ to sustainable community development prompted a ‘for-instance…’ thought that was not voiced. Our short answer to this question was ‘existing lifestyle choices, (we live too big…) and history of local development practices. (we’re too nice to cars…)
We had a couple of big conundrums with Tonbo. Since we were simultaneously working on site and home design, we spent a lot of time debating whether or not smaller homes (1500 sf) with single car garages could be marketable. Design it and they will come? We weren’t so sure as we were completing the site construction documents. A trusted appraiser told the developer that nothing under 2100 sf or so would sell at Tonbo’s location. Consequently, we designed for both, with optimism that by the time the economy recovers, folks will want those smaller, high-efficiency homes. At the same time, the website and marketing were beginning to draw inquiries. We knew that the ideal Tonbo-ers would probably prefer to use some form of alternative transportation, and yet we also knew that there is nary a bus stop along Greenville Loop road, which itself is a hazard to cyclists and pedestrian. So many complexities. (…and so we’ll just have to increase our lobbying for bus stops and bike lanes and sidewalks!)
Buddy made a wonderful comment (one of many…) when the discussion turned to ‘economic outcomes.’ In addition to offering several amazingly pertinent, decades-old quotes, he said that sustainable design looks to create and maintain value in every decision, every object, every space. (paraphrasing poorly.) Do the most with the least. The design of the ‘human habitat,’ as he described it, should consider far more than simple financial outcomes…it should promote and encourage human civility. Lara came across an interesting phrase during her preparation for the panel…one could also call this ‘basic interspecies courtesy!’ (if anyone knows the source, please let us know!)
So, for us, what does it all really boil down to? Simplicity in design, a recognition of the value of history and our changing habits, and an abiding respect for nature, for those ‘ecosystem services,’ – climate regulation, provision of water, air, plants, animals – that we’re a part of, not APART from.
For anyone who is interested in this, please Google the words ‘natural capital.’