Getting Green with Eco-Friendly Urban Planning
What is Green Urban Planning?
Urban planning and regional planning in the 21st century focuses on building and renewing communities with a greater awareness of the finite nature of the earth’s resources. The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Thus, sustainable planning is fundamentally planning for the benefit of the environment that we all inhabit (and our children’s children will one day inhabit as well), so that human developments co-exist with nature rather than exploit it.
There are three essential components to sustainable practices in environmental planning. The first is reducing the consumption of natural resources, including water and carbon-based fuels, to manageable levels. The second involves adapting existing structures for reuse by means and for ends that are environmentally friendly. The third component is the salvaging and recycling of materials from structures that cannot be reused. Each of these components has its own economic implications in the short term, but over the long run contributes to beneficial development that respects the needs of posterity.
Non-Carbon Energy & Urban Sustainability
The UN Habitat’s “Local Governments for Sustainability” initiative, in a comprehensive report on Sustainable Urban Energy Planning, outlines ways that alternative energy can help to streamline urban communities. The integration of clean, renewable energy sources like solar, tidal, and wind power into an urban environment can help offset a city’s environmental impact. Urban planning is crucial in ensuring that cities minimize their footprints and continue to utilize alternative energy.
Regulation or Planning?
Many believe that sustainable urban planning is part of the enforcement programs undertaken by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Nothing could be further from the truth. A short-hand term for sustainability planning or eco-friendly planning is “green planning.” While urban planners are usually government employees or consultants, they meet with all stakeholders that are involved in a project, not just environmental regulators.
Urban planners ask for input from everyone. If a neighborhood that is primarily a commercial warehouse district is going to be redeveloped for housing, planners meet with businesspeople, area residents, highway department planners, utility planners, developers, architects and others to arrive at a consensus as to the best way to accomplish the common goal of a community. Some warehouses may be reused and turned into lofts where the hot water will be provided by solar energy. Some buildings may be razed, with timber and steel recycled for use in new construction. New buildings may be designed with setbacks from the street for the planting of trees and have expansive glass areas to help heat them in winter.
Sustainability makes urban planning a cutting-edge career. Initiatives like the City of Minneapolis’s 26 Sustainability Indicators program and the global ICLEI initiative are just a few examples of pioneering efforts in sustainable infrastructure and resource management.