Sustainable Design
Definition of "sustainable urbanism"
I have noticed the term "Sustainable Urbanism" gaining wider currency (vs. sustainable development, green building, new urbanism) and suspect it best defines my field of interest, but I have not seen it properly defined anywhere.

Is this a loose evolution of the term, or has someone described and defined it somewhere? I would love to know. Thanks.
Kelly Rodgers
Definition of "sustainable urbanism"
Dear Kelly,

I have not come across a 'definition' of sustainable urbanism per se, although I've studied aspects of it. As I see it, sustainable urbanism is primarily concerned with land use development -- location, densities, types of use, etc. -- that does not infringe on non-replacable resources and where possible try to undo damage done by earlier urban developments to non-replacable resources. These resources are rivers, forests, animal and plant populations.

A building that supplies its own energy through the use of photovoltaic panels may be considered 'green architecture', however, if that building was built on a wetlands, it is not sustainable. This is where sustainable urbanism comes in to help green architecture achieve its fullest potential.

I think the main challenge in sustainable urbanism today is not in cities but in the periphery where suburbs, edge cities, highway networks and big mall developments gulp up land that could be used more wisely. (In the cities, the main challenges are rehabilitation of post-industrial 'brownfields,' conversion to environmentally friendly transportation and environmental justice issues affecting the urban poor).

In the first case, one needs ample knowledge of environmental systems (river networks, storm water drainage, etc.) and animal behaviour (habitat, etc.). Perhaps the most useful guide that I've seen on how to do sustainable development in this context is "Landscape Ecology Principles In Landscape Architecture And Land-Use Planning" by Forman, Dramstad and Olson.

In the case of cities, one needs to know about the above ('urban ecology', more specifically) and also of social indexes linking the environment to people. A single neighborhood containing all the cities' garbage dumps would be a prime example of a sustainable urbanism challenge within the city context.

I'm looking forward to read what others have to say on this topic.
Ozgur Basak Alkan


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