February 7, 2011 | bfeldman | Uncategorized

Designing sustainable neighborhoods

We’ve recently been engaged in a couple of  master planning projects for residential/mixed use neighborhoods.  Each is focused on sustainable design.  Like all of our projects, it’s lead to a lot of discussion – what makes a neighborhood sustainable?

Maybe I can best answer this question with a real life example.

I remember the first time I visited Italy, over 20 years ago.  We were staying in Vincenza, doing the Palladio pilgrimage thing.  We had a really nice room at a small pensione.  From our third floor window you could see across the alleyway to the building next door, right at the top of the building.  It had that “cow skull” motif that you would see in buildings of that era.  Outside the entry there was a small square dominated by a large tree.  The local pizzeria had set up cheap picnic tables under the tree, and a couple of nights we ate there with the locals.  Everything was there that people go to Italy to experience – Renaissance architecture, sculpture, landscape, food, wine, fiats and vespas.  To my mind, that’s sustainability – a neighborhood that was put together beautifully – buildings that changed hands and uses many times over the centuries and were still in use.  You wouldn’t think of tearing them down, but you also wouldn’t hesitate to change them to fit your needs.

Central, public space that brings the neighborhood together is a “sustainable” idea that goes back centuries.  Architecture can help or hinder – if the mission is to craft a sustainable neighborhood then putting the tools in place for people to meet and greet is essential.    Our recent projects have emphasized these types of spaces.

planning sketch - St. Charles County neighborhood
planning sketch - St. Charles County neighborhood

Lots of concepts make their way into the planning effort – solar orientation, water quality, sustainable materials etc.  If we had to prioritize, central, green gathering spaces would be at the top of the list in terms of what makes a neighborhood sustainable.

More to come…..

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