Sustainability in the East Village - a conversation with Globe St. and John Ambert (BNIM Architects)

This is an article by Carrie Rossenfeld originally posted here.

How The East Village Is Promoting Sustainability

The East Village neighborhood of Downtown San Diego will focus on improving key “green” indicators including energy, water, mobility, economy, health, streetscape vitality and waste, San Diego Green Building Council volunteer John Ambert tells Ambert, AIA LEED AP BD+C, artchitecture, with BNIM, recently moderated a panel discussion here, hosted by SDGBC, about opportunities and obstacles to implementation of smart growth, net-zero water and energy developments and the facilitation of innovative partnerships in this neighborhood. We spoke exclusively with Ambert about sustainability in the East Village and how the organization is getting involved in this market.

photo courtesy Paulina Lis

photo courtesy Paulina Lis How is the East Village promoting sustainability?

Ambert: The East Village area of Downtown San Diego is starting a unique transformation process towards the development of a smart community—a transformation that will investigate the economic, environmental, and social health of the land and residents within. This transformation toward a more sustainable neighborhood can take many forms, but ultimately it focuses on improve key “green” indicators including energy, water, mobility, economy, health, streetscape vitality and waste.

There are many players in the East Village area that are working to improve the health of the eastern edge of Downtown. The Downtown Community Planning Group, San Diego East Village Association, and the East Village Business Improvement District all work together to support and promote East Village businesses by establishing the community as a livable urban village. In addition, there are currently two large developments in the East Village working to create unique and diverse neighborhoods in the area: The I.D.E.A. District and Makers Quarter. Both of these developments aim to blend arts, culture, education and entertainment in order to create vibrant and diverse communities in this region. In addition, the City of San Diego recently completed a climate action plan that requires the city to significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 2035. All of these players are working to create a revival in the East Village, but are currently working independently to do so.

Thus, there is a huge opportunity for these developers, community organizations and city planners to develop comprehensive community initiatives for addressing the complex social problems of the East Village area, which include homelessness, public health and environmental quality. By addressing these challenges with an integrated design process that evaluates these issues over the long term, the East Village has the chance to become a truly sustainable community that can be a model for surrounding neighborhoods.

photo courtesy IDEA District

photo courtesy IDEA District What is the San Diego Green Building Council’s involvement with this cause?

Ambert: The San Diego Green Building Council is an environmental non-profit dedicated to providing education, outreach, and advocacy surrounding green building in the San Diego community. Our mission is to inspire, educate and collaborate within our community to transform our built environment toward true sustainability.

In terms of the work occurring in the East Village area, the SDGBC provides education and promotes collaboration between the community, the City, and the development teams in order to assist in the development of green buildings and smart-cities initiatives. We are interested in working with the different teams to analyze the challenges and opportunities in creating high-performance green buildings and developing the neighborhoods in the East Village into model communities that demonstrate district-scale sustainability. Our goal is to assist the San Diego community groups in creating a healthy, resilient, and sustainable downtown by providing information, education and connectivity to the orchestrators of other successful communities around the country.

photo courtesy Paulina Lis

photo courtesy Paulina Lis What can other growing urban submarkets learn from what is being done in the East Village?

Ambert: Growing urban submarkets can learn from the activities currently underway in the East Village area by taking a similar proactive approach to long-range planning and by developing a set of comprehensive community initiatives for their specific region. CCIs should be evaluated at the many scales of the community in order to determine the best magnitude of each individual initiative.

The process involves the evaluation of both state and city code as well as local policies to ensure they all support the same long-term vision for the region. It addition, this process requires input from a diverse group of stakeholders including community groups, development teams and municipal representatives in order to get the whole perspective of the complex challenges in creating a healthy and socially equitable communities.

In addition, growing urban submarkets should look to precedents from around the country for implementing sustainable strategies at the community scale. The LEED Neighborhood Development (NC) Program, Eco-Districts, 2030 Districts, and Smart Cities Initiatives are all different ways of looking at improving the health and resiliency of communities with different performance targets. Each community will have different initiatives and therefore should craft a sustainability plan that aligns with the needs of their specific region. What else should our readers know about sustainability in urban developments?

Ambert: Sustainability in urban developments can be implemented at a variety of scales. Individual buildings, neighborhoods and whole communities can take advantage of solutions that improve the quality of life for the residents, community and local ecology. District solutions often align better with the economies-of-scale concept, where the cost advantages and efficiencies are realized at greater scales. These type of solutions require communities, developers and municipalities to work together in evaluating the correct scale for each initiative.

Homeowners, planning groups, town councils, community leaders and development partners all play a part in working to implement sustainable solutions in their communities. All of these players should be working within a policy framework to conserve water, generate energy, preserve natural environments, create active urban centers and improve the walkability and bike-ability of their communities.

Lastly, sustainability does not have to be just about green buildings; rather, it can take on a variety of shapes and forms that go beyond the built environment. Sustainability involves all the things that make up communities and all of the complex challenges that come with them. Health, social equity, and economic vitality are all intimately connected, and it is when people look beyond the traditional bottom line of profit vs. loss that these complexities can be re-evaluated as a part of a larger system and addressed as such. When we expand the concept of sustainability into a conversation about helping people, the economy and the environment, we can take advantage of overlapping synergies that result from broader-stroke approaches to planning and urban design.

This is an article by Carrie Rossenfeld originally posted here.