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Community Planning Today and Tomorrow
Sustainability Is Key

by Mike Dahl, LASN

Community Planning Today and Tomorrow

Establishing land-use plans through regulatory means is designed to produce the most effective utilization of a given amount of territory and its resources. Considerations include the types of socioeconomic activities that will take place, environmental impacts, the prevention of land-use conflicts and future growth potential. As defined by the American Planning Association, the objective "is to further the welfare of people and their communities by creating convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive environments for present and future generations."
Photo Credit: WPL Landscape Architecture

In the words of the American Planning Association, their members provide "a vision for the community today - and what we want our community to be in the future." The job includes conceiving the forthcoming growth and changes of an area and how the various communal components: structures, transportation corridors, open areas and the rest, best fit that conception to ultimately "create communities of lasting value."

As land planners currently forecast the future, what forward-looking concepts are being incorporated?

Striving for Sustainability
As evidence of the growth of sustainable development, which the U.N. World Commission defined as meeting "the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs," the U.S. Green Building Council is bestowing LEED certification on more than 2 million square feet of new space every day, adding up to more than 92,000 certified projects so far.

And the USGBC is certainly not the only one doing this - for instance BREEAM, or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, has conferred its seal of approval on more than 562,000 projects around the world. This program has certification standards for a number of categories including community master planning.

Dodge Data and Analytics' recent survey on worldwide trends for green buildings found that 47% of participants, an increase of 20 points, expect that by 2021, more than 60% of their projects will be "green." The study concludes that the demand is poised to even double in some regions. As the number of green buildings grows, so should green development in general.

"The trends uncovered in this report reflect what we're seeing in our business," says Chris Nelson, president, commercial HVAC for Carrier, premier sponsor of the study. "Building green is good for the public health, the environment, and the bottom line."

Community Planning Today and Tomorrow

This is an example of "coving," presented by Rick Harrison Site Design, an international landscape design firm located in Minnesota. Elements include: no lot lines radial, or perpendicular to street right-of-ways; home setbacks, streets and sidewalks forming non-parallel, curvilinear patterns; the lines of homes and streets curving and varying at complimentary intervals, amounting in the reduction of total street surface by about 25% without density loss; generally larger setbacks, front, side and rear, than the regulation minimums.

Also just released, the 2018 International Green Construction Code by the USGBC, International Code Council, ASHRAE and the Illuminating Engineering Society has sustainable approaches that can be incorporated into building codes everywhere to improve communities' standards of living.

"Our hope is that building professionals and policymakers alike adopt better, greener building strategies that help them better implement LEED and achieve higher performance in sustainability," states Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO, USGBC.

Harnessing Technology
The Dodge Data and Analytics' report also delved into the aspects that technology experts "believe will be most influential in the near future," of development.

Attaining net zero or near zero energy performance was one of these, as was distributed energy production through the use of renewables.

Designing cities to be "smart" through the use of sensors "integrated into the urban fabric" that collect data, which can then be analyzed and acted upon, was cited as a way to make better, more livable communities.
For instance, Moscow has an intelligent transport system that controls over 3,700 road detectors, 2,000 video cameras and 6,000 traffic lights to help keep travel flowing smoothly on its roads.

People in London can compare transportation options by time and price thanks to sensors and apps, which are also proving very valuable to the worldwide expansion of bike sharing - helping people locate and unlock them and pay for time used.

Community Planning Today and Tomorrow

A new master plan for downtown Las Vegas includes establishing a definitive downtown boundary; adding 4,000 to 5,000 housing units; a downtown circulator or light rail system; development of districts dedicated to technology and entrepreneurial endeavors; and a boosting of the medical and arts districts.
CLV DTMP conceptual illustrative plan by Callison RTKL

Community Planning Today and Tomorrow

In Idaho Falls, Idaho, the Snake River Landing was designed by Land Expressions as a mixed-use community between the Snake River and Interstate 15. The master-planned development called for a series of streams and ponds over a mile of terrain. Its 450 acres of land eventually included 60 acres of green space to its 275 acres allocated for residential, retail, commercial and office use.

Besides being specified in the plans, technology continues to play a bigger role in the actual land planning function.

"We now find ourselves in the early stages of a digital industrial revolution," Alastair Parvin, a strategic designer and the co-founder of WikiHouse Foundation remarks. "The way we plan and regulate our built environment will be reinvented in the next two decades."

According to him, increased digitization could allow citizens to participate more directly in decision-making, and will bring more data into the planning process so decisions can be made " on the basis of their evidenced likely impact on the world, rather than in isolation based on hunch or short-term political guesswork."

Case Study: Downtown Las Vegas
Dubbed VisionLV, the city is developing a community-based renovation for its downtown area with a planning horizon of 2035. Central to the effort is creating "unique and identifiable districts."

The master plan, which is still a work in progress, incorporates a multi-modal transportation system that applies smart mobility technology; a "layered street network" where various streets are designated to have an emphasis on one travel mode: be it auto, transit, bicycle or pedestrian; net-zero energy usage; linear green infrastructure; a wayfinding system with signage, lighting and public art that visually brands and strengthens the identity of downtown and its districts.

Community Planning Today and Tomorrow

Developing smarter cities includes the use of data-collecting sensors. To help streamline garbage collection, sensors on trash bins can send an alert when the bin is full, optimizing the number of trips a garbage truck makes.
PHOTO: Victor Stanley

Community Planning Today and Tomorrow

Autonomous vehicles promise to be an important element to consider in future development plans. Currently, Singapore's Smart Urban Mobility project incorporates them along with collected data and artificial intelligence to improve the area's public transit system and reduce the number of cars on the road.

Higher density (mid-rise residential and vertical mixed-use) development around transit hubs is designed to increase housing stock.

The transportation system plans to be high capacity and have higher efficiency at a lower economic and environmental cost; enhancing pedestrian linkages, promoting car share and bike share, and increasing the bike network by 685% and urban trails by 300%.

A proposed green network of parks, plazas and tree-lined streets will create multi-functional spaces for social interaction, and increase park area by 200% and the tree canopy by 1600%.
The plan also calls for innovative centers of employment, commerce and education, urban infill development and historic preservation.

To be fair, the land planning process, which ultimately determines the shape of the communities that we call home, does have its detractors. WikiHouse Foundation's Parvin, says, "When it comes to the issue of housing and development, (hating the process) may be the only thing that everyone does agree on."

But with the dedication of industry specialists equipped with innovative tools and an ever-expanding trove of data, the end results can positively reflect the values and aspirations of the community.

As seen in LASN magazine, January 2019.

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November 19, 2019, 10:15 pm PDT

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