Santa Monica Sustainable Building Guidelines

As part of its Sustainable City Program, adopted by the City Council in September 1994, Santa Monica is developing “Sustainable Building Development Guidelines” which may prove a useful model for other cities. A draft version was released in late 1996, and comments from stakeholders will be incorporated into a final set later this year.

The Santa Monica guidelines deal primarily with energy, water, and materials use, but also include public health, building siting, and landscaping. Developed by an international team of consultants, the framework will apply initially to civic and private offices, light industrial buildings, commercial retail, multi-family residences, and hotels. The city is developing a scoring system to quantify the “sustainability performance” of buildings.

Rather than establishing rigid standards, the city’s approach is to educate developers and work with them to develop more sustainable building practices. Overall policy goals include reducing energy use 16 percent, water use 20 percent, solid waste volumes 50 percent, and dry weather stormdrain discharges 60 percent.

For more information, contact Dean Kubani, Environmental Programs Division, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401; phone (310) 458-8221; fax (310) 576-3598; email

Harbor Town In Memphis

A new 130-acre “Harbor Town” development in Memphis seeks to recreate the pedestrian-oriented urban form of 100 years ago with narrow lots, 10-foot-deep front yards, alleys, and ubiquitous porches. Designed by RTKL Associates of Baltimore and Looney Ricks Kiss of Memphis, the development began construction in 1989.

So far, 280 attached and detached homes have been built as well as a 345-unit apartment complex. A newly constructed Montessori school is packed with children, and residents seem to be using the streets extensively for biking, walking, and rollerblading. A small, 7,000-square-foot grocery, an office building, and a variety of other shops and restaurants are also planned in this mixed-use community near the Mississippi River.

Most remarkably, developer Henry M. Turley, Jr. has persuaded builders to construct a broad variety of housing sizes, prices, and designs next to one another in part by having the smaller, more affordable homes built first. Housing designs draw heavily on traditional Southern architecture, and include “sideyard houses” and narrow “shotgun houses.” Many dwellings have high foundations to shield living quarters from the nearby street. (The New York Times)

Progressive Transportation Planning In New England

A number of exciting projects were highlighted last fall at a conference entitled “Building Livable Communities Through Transportation,” co-sponsored by the Massachusetts chapter of the American Planning Association. Portland, Maine has developed a transportation plan focusing on pedestrian, bike, and public transit alternatives to single-occupant automobiles. The city is building a walkway and bikeway along Casco Bay, as well as traffic-calming a major street and providing electric shuttle buses between downtown offices and a park-and-ride lot.

In Vermont, Burlington is hoping to start 25 miles of commuter rail service along the shores of Lake Champlain as an alternative to the region’s congested Route 7. The town of Manchester in the southern part of the state is designing a traffic-calming roundabout and a tree-lined boulevard in place of a three-quarter-mile-long arterial strip. Cambridge, Massachusetts is planning a new network of bike lanes as well as new traffic-calming street designs using “speed tables,” traffic islands, and “chicanes,” which slow motorists by raising the pavement at intersections, adding median slow points in the middle of blocks, and offsetting traffic lanes, respectively. (Urban Design and Preservation Quarterly)
Sacramento Expands Light Rail

Following the success of its nine-year-old light rail system, Sacramento is planning to nearly double its transit network. Over the next seven years the system will grow from 18.3 to 30.5 miles, 30 to 41 stations, and 36 to 74 rail cars. Ridership is expected to rise nearly 100 percent.

The city’s new South Light Rail Line will take advantage of existing Union Pacific tracks to bring 15,000 new riders a day into downtown Sacramento. Another new route will run from downtown to the city’s airport, connecting also to an Amtrak station. Such improvements will be paid for from federal and state funds, local sales taxes, and county developer fees.

With the recent arrival of 40 new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses, the Sacramento Regional Transit District is also moving to convert its bus fleet to cleaner technologies. The agency is finding that the new CNG buses are 20 cents cheaper per mile to operate than diesel models. A 1996 “Summer Fare Sale,” under which fares were reduced by 24 cents, resulted in a 10 percent ridership increase. (Transit California)

Base Conversion Opportunities

In 1997 about 60 of the 120 major military bases slated for closure in the U.S. will begin transition to civilian uses. These large parcels of land, many in the midst of urban areas, represent an unprecedented opportunity for ecologically appropriate urban development.

In Denver, construction has begun on two new urban neighborhoods in place of the 1,877-acre Lowery Air Base. The dense and walkable communities, designed by Sasaki Associates and BRW Denver, will be joined by a 600-acre greenway along a natural drainage corridor. In Orlando, Cooper Cary Associates and Nelessen Associates of Princeton, NJ have been selected to design a new neighborhood to replace the Orlando Naval Training Center, and a six-month-long citywide visioning process is underway. In New York, Governor’s Island may be converted to cultural uses when its Coast Guard base closes. The Regional Plan Association held an urban design charette this past April to refine concepts for reuse of the island. And in Philadelphia, a plan to redevelop the Defense Personnel Support Center has been endorsed by a mayoral commission and community groups. (Urban Design Update)

Funky Towns USA

In a recent book Mark Cramer describes 54 “funky” urban communities in the U.S. — places that “refuse to accept the mainstream way of doing things” and that offer exciting mixtures of buildings, uses, and cultures. High on the list are San Francisco’s Mission District, New Orleans, Arcata CA, Key West FL, Venice CA, New York’s Notsosoho areas, and Washington D.C.’s Adams-Morgan neighborhood.

Urban planners and designers can learn a lot from the elements listed in Cramer’s rating scheme about what makes places “cool.” These elements include unconventional customs, cross-cultural environments, public hangouts, non-mainstream forms of recreation and entertainment, pedestrian friendliness, mixed-use layouts, “upended facilities” that are used for different purposes than originally intended (such as factories converted to housing), and alternative economic institutions such as farmers markets, street vendors, and stores selling locally-produced goods.

Although funkiness doesn’t necessarily correlate with sustainability, communities such as Berea KY, Burlington VT, Cambridge, and Seattle are also in the forefront of environmentally and socially progressive planning. Most suburban or single-use urban environments would score poorly on Cramer’s scale, which emphasizes “alternative, eclectic, irreverent and visionary places.” Funky-Towns USA is published by TBC Publishing in Annapolis and can be ordered for $11.95 from BookMasters at 1-800-507-BOOK. (Urban Quality Indicators)


In his February budget, President Clinton proposed $1 billion in funding over five years for the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, a federal program established in 1994 to help revitalize many urban communities. (CDFI News)
In a move likely to help anchor downtown Detroit, General Motors is moving its executives into the city’s downtown Renaissance Center. (Urban Design Update)
The U.S. EPA reports that major air pollutants have decreased by nearly 30 percent over the last 25 years, largely in response to air quality legislation. Toxic concentrations of benzene dropped sharply in 1994 and 95 in response to requirements for reformulated gasoline. (AP)
The Metropolitan Trails Council in Austin Texas has proposed a 15-mile hike-and-bike trail along the city’s Walnut Creek, and has won support from many businesses and neighborhood groups. (Austin American-Statesman)
Residents of the Virginia towns of Middleburg, Aldie and Upperville convinced the state’s Department of Transportation to abandon plans to create U.S. 50 bypasses around each town, and are instead calling for “traffic-calming” on the highway. (The New York Times)
In Florida the Governor’s Commission for a Sustainable South Florida has completed a report on the long-term recovery of the area’s natural systems, and the Florida Greenways Commission has issued a report on establishing a statewide greenways system. (The International Green Planner)
In Boston’s Post Office Square, revenues from parking fees pay the operating costs of a combination 1.7 acre street-level park and underground garage. (GreenSense)
The Urban Institute has initiated a National Neighborhood Indicators Project working with seven cities initially to establish and strengthen neighborhood information systems. For more information, contact Kara Hartnett at (202) 857-8677. (Urban Quality Indicators)