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In built environment design, codes set minimum health and safety requirements, policies set aspirational targets, and incentives such as green building rating schemes set design standards. These approaches have failed to provide universal well-being and environmental justice (i.e. intra-generational equity), or increases in the natural life-support system that exceed depletion rates (i.e. inter- generational equity). Governments that do not ensure all citizens can obtain basic needs, life quality and resource security fail to meet their basic responsibilities. Two recent documents, one representing sustainable urban policy and principles, the other representing urban biodiversity standards, are examined against the Positive Development Test (whether the development increases the public estate, ecological base and future public options). The discussion suggests that contemporary policies and incentive schemes, as presently conceived, cannot provide the basic physical preconditions for sustainability, let alone address socio-economic inequities. An alternative design-based approach is presented to address the issues the paper identified.
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© 2018 Nicolaus Copernicus University. All rights reserved. © 2018 De Gruyter Open (on-line).
Bulletin of Geography. Socio–economic Series / No.40 (2018): 41–56
Challenging policy barriers in sustainable urban design
Janis BirkelandCDMR
University of Melbourne, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, VIC 3010, Melbourne, Australia; e-mail: janis.lynn.
How to cite:
Birkeland, J. (2018). Challenging policy barriers in sustainable development. Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series, 40(40),
41–56. DOI:
Abstract. In built environment design, codes set minimum health and safety re-
quirements, policies set aspirational targets, and incentives such as green build-
ing rating schemes set design standards. ese approaches have failed to provide
universal wellbeing and environmental justice (i.e. intra-generational equity), or
increases in the natural life-support system that exceed depletion rates (i.e. in-
ter-generational equity). Governments that do not ensure all citizens can obtain
basic needs, life quality and resource security fail to meet their basic responsibil-
ities. Two recent documents, one representing sustainable urban policy and prin-
ciples, the other representing urban biodiversity standards, are examined against
the Positive Development Test (whether the development increases the public es-
tate, ecological base and future public options). e discussion suggests that con-
temporary policies and incentive schemes, as presently conceived, cannot provide
the basic physical preconditions for sustainability, let alone address socio-econom-
ic inequities. An alternative design-based approach is presented to address the is-
sues the paper identied.
1. Introduction ........................................................................... 42
1.1. Background........................................................................ 42
1.2. Criteria for review.................................................................. 44
2. Conceptual issues raised by Habitat III.................................................... 44
2.1. Policy issues ....................................................................... 45
2.2. Design issues ...................................................................... 46
3. Institutional issues raised by Habitat III ................................................... 48
3.1. Management issues ................................................................. 48
3.2. Accountability and standards ........................................................ 49
3.3. Summary comments................................................................ 51
Article details:
Received: 30 November 2017
Revised: 03 March 2018
Accepted: 15 March 2018
Key words:
urban design,
positive development,
green building rating tools,
net-positive design,
urban biodiversity,
New Urban Agenda.
© 2018 Nicolaus Copernicus University. All rights reserved.
Janis Birkeland
/ Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
1. Introduction
1.1. Background
Cities are far from sustainable in their present form.
ey are a source of resource depletion, contam-
ination and waste, and a sink that drains regions
of energy, materials, water and biodiversity. Oen
cities intensify oods, heatwaves, earthquakes and
hurricanes, segregate races and classes, limit social
mobility, and block escape routes in civil or envi-
ronmental crises. Since the built environment is im-
plicated in most sustainability issues, it is therefore
central to solutions. Yet sustainable planning and
design have largely only aimed to mitigate its own
adverse impacts through eciency gains. Mean-
while, on average, 58% of the Earth’s wildlife, 3.8
billion years in the making, has been lost since 1970
(WWF, 2016). Much of this owes to the habitat de-
struction, climate change and pollution caused by
resource extraction, the construction and operation
of cities. To be sustainable, then, cities must reverse
this trajectory and give back more than they take.
In a context of escalating environmental exploita-
tion and degradation, cities must be transformed to
increase future public options and natural and social
support systems. Positive Development (PD) states
that the positive ecological footprint of nature must
exceed the negative ecological footprint of humans
(Birkeland, 2008). PD posits that cities can create
their own ecosystem services, restock their biore-
gions, and over-compensate for the impacts of con-
struction. Net-positive design is possible, because
cities can be retrotted for net social and ecological
gains over their lifecycle at no extra cost (Birkeland,
2004). However, this requires that urban design not
just integrate nature, but create new spaces and con-
ditions for both the ‘ecological base’ or means of
survival (ecological carrying capacity, biodiversity,
ecosystem services, etc.) and ‘public estate’ or uni-
versal access to the means of survival (essential ser-
vices, social support systems, environmental justice,
etc.). If redesigned on net-positive design principles,
cities could generate sustainability.
Although variously dened, sustainability essen-
tially means inter- and intra-generational equity.
Cities fail to provide intra-generational equity when
they limit the life potential of the socio-economi-
cally deprived and transfer wealth from the poor-
er to the richer. ey lack inter-generational equity,
because they reduce future options for survival and
wellbeing and are not easily adapted to changing
conditions and climates. Given the losses of biodi-
versity and cultures, and disparities of wealth and
inequities caused by cities, they must be retrot-
ted to create the physical preconditions for sus-
tainability and increase universal life quality. Yet,
current urban policies, strategies and standards do
not yet contemplate net-positive outcomes. While
some now claim their buildings produce net ben-
ets, this only means that, aer construction, they
export renewable energy or recycled water across
property lines. is neither compensates for the ad-
verse ecological impacts due to resource extraction,
construction and operation processes, nor increases
ecosystems and biodiversity in whole-system terms.
Two divergent orientations in sustainability are
green growth’ and ‘degrowth’. Green growth calls
for innovation, eciency, and ‘closing loops’ or re-
cycling at all stages of production and consump-
tion. eoretically, this might approach zero waste,
carbon, energy while improving environmental con-
ditions, but it only reduces relative material ows.
PD adds the other side of the equation: increasing
nature in excess of human consumption. Degrowth
4. Green building rating and marketing tools ................................................ 51
4.1. e Green Star biodiversity credit scheme............................................. 52
4.2. BCS (biodiversity credit scheme) proposed actions and outcomes........................ 52
5. Conclusion............................................................................. 54
Note ..................................................................................... 55
References ............................................................................... 55
Janis Birkeland / Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
calls for a reduction in production and consump-
tion, through activism and democratic choice,
leading to values, behavior and eventually systems
change (Demaria, Kothari, 2017). While challenging
cultural and ideological bases is essential, PD adds
another dimension: designing out the anti-sustaina-
bility biases that are hardwired into the physical and
institutional architecture. Sustainability requires not
only disruptive innovations and radical worldviews,
but the reformation of design and decision-making
frameworks on ethics-based and eco-positive prin-
ciples. Decision-making systems can make better
choices, but only design can create more and bet-
ter choices.
e retrot of cities on net-positive principles
is unquestionably necessary, but some would ar-
gue that better living environments cannot change
behavior, values, or personal and political power
relationships. Nevertheless, a dierent kind of liv-
ing environment could reduce the causes of con-
ict, discontent and poor health such as inequality,
and the impacts of political and economic injustices
such as poverty. Physical quality and equity would
not require ‘more’ regulation, incentives, investment
or social change but simply a change of design con-
cepts. Others would argue that the requisite insti-
tutional changes are not possible through existing
market or state structures. However, because cit-
ies can increase social and ecological foundations
protably while reducing net adverse impacts and
threats, design could leapfrog the impasses creat-
ed by the state-market duality. A system of posi-
tive environmental governance is also proposed
(Birkeland, 2008). However, this paper critiques
contemporary policy and incentive frameworks, to
which it now turns.
Eco-positive design is achievable. Vertical struc-
tures can increase the space for nature and commu-
nity to over-compensate for (otherwise unavoidable)
negative impacts of development and increase sus-
tainability. For example, buildings with permanent
building-integrated vegetation can sequester more
carbon than is emitted during resource extraction,
construction and operation (Renger et al., 2015),
while providing ecosystem services, environmen-
tal amenities, public spaces and health benets.
However, the longstanding ethic has been ‘do no
harm’—instead of ‘do net good’. Consequently, ur-
ban design guidelines and assessment tools do not
facilitate, let alone measure, net-positive outcomes.
Although design was traditionally about value add-
ing, design tools draw narrow system boundaries
in time and space, such as ‘from time of purchase’
or ‘within property lines. Such boundaries limit the
duty of care and discount adverse bio-accumulative
impacts. erefore, PD provides informal and tech-
nical tools for net-positive design and assessment,
using stationary temporal and spatial baselines, as
• Ecological baseline: Building assessment and
rating tools set standards that are relative to current
practices, not sustainability. ey do not envisage
buildings that increase the natural environment in
a global sense. Some progressive sustainable design
tools aim for onsite or osite landscape regeneration
that improves upon pre-construction environments
but does not increase the natural environment. is
cannot oset the damage in building production, let
alone increase native ecosystems or environmental
justice sucient to compensate for past harm. is
is because, even if the original ecological base were
restored, it could not provide enough space to sup-
port the current population sustainably (cf. Wack-
ernagel, Rees, 1996). If development is to give back
more than it takes from nature, the earth’s ‘eective
land area must be increased. Hence, the PD ecolog-
ical standard is net increases in ecological carrying
capacity or ‘ecological space’ (i.e. space created by
vertical structures and building-integrated ecosys-
tem services) beyond pre-industrial conditions.
• Social baseline: Social sustainability depends
upon on ecological sustainability, but it also re-
quires environmental and social justice. Due to
current disparities of wealth and opportunity, sus-
tainable development needs to address environmen-
tal inequities in the surrounding community. Green
developments oen aim to include social amenities
such as public spaces, plazas or building features
like green walls that clean and re-oxygenate urban
air. Few, however, proactively prevent environmen-
tal risks, correct osite environmental and equity
decits, or provide accessible refuges with inbuilt
sources of food and water for emergencies. Social
standards in green building tools, like their environ-
mental standards, are ‘relative’. Projects only need to
Janis Birkeland
/ Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
show more benets for building stakeholders (e.g.,
investors, occupants and neighbors) than the norm.
ese tools reward amenities that provide prot,
prestige and marketability anyway. e PD social
standard, in contrast, is net increases in social and
environmental equity on a community-wide basis,
and direct universal access to basic needs.
To assess whether current sustainability poli-
cy, incentives and tools address the physical pre-
requisites of sustainability, or genuine bio-physical
sustainability, this paper examines two recent in-
itiatives through an eco-positive lens. First, e
New Urban Agenda or Habitat III (2016) explicit-
ly builds on many international sustainability dec-
larations that emphasize the city scale. Second, the
Australian Green Building Council’s Land Use and
Ecology Category Review (GBCA, 2017) proposes to
integrate urban ecology into its ‘Green Star’ accred-
itation scheme. Green building rating tools are now
the dominant means of setting design standards,
and this scheme builds on a review of biodiversi-
ty provisions in other certication tools. Since both
initiatives reect contemporary approaches to ur-
ban policy and implementation, and both received
feedback from cross-sectoral experts, they can be
taken to represent best-practice urban and build-
ing scale design standards. ey are examined here
in terms of the gap between conventional sustaina-
bility frameworks and PD sustainability standards.
1.2. Criteria for review
is paper asks: do these representative documents
address the biophysical prerequisites of sustainabil-
ity? First, does Habitat III, or contemporary inter-
national urban policy goals and strategies generally,
address socio-political realities? Second, does the
Green Star biodiversity credit scheme, or building
design standards and incentives schemes general-
ly, address ecological issues? e criterion is the
‘PD test’: whether or not a development expands fu-
ture options for survival and wellbeing, by increas-
ing the ecological base in whole-system terms and
by increasing social equity on an area-wide basis, to
over-compensate for shortfalls or uncertainties. If
not, governments are obligated to establish mecha-
nisms for transforming urban form, buildings and
infrastructure to enable a sustainable environment.
is is regardless of whether or not the standards or
implementation measures are delegated to industry
or advisory bodies. e grounds for this obligation
lie in a broad interpretation of the social contract:
the basic duty of governments to their citizenry.
Democracy requires physical security in the sup-
ply of basic needs like food, shelter, water, peace,
safety and social interaction. e citizenry there-
fore grants government the power to ensure that
essential services are available. In cases of extreme
disparities of wealth, however, people that are de-
pendent on economic and electronic instruments
can be eectively disenfranchised by poverty. e
only reliable way to guarantee democracy and sus-
tainability is direct physical access to the means of
survival and wellbeing. is can only be guaran-
teed if the built environment is designed to pro-
vide them. e physical bases of sustainability can
be implemented by government, business, the com-
munity, or cross-sectoral partnerships. However, if
these schemes fail to provide for sustainability (i.e.
ensure fundamental needs and fairness, protect the
natural life-support system, enable adaptation to
changing contexts and climates, and set basic safe-
ty standards and security) then the system of gov-
ernance has no real legitimacy.
2. Conceptual issues raised by Habitat III
Habitat III: 94. We will implement integrated planning that
aims to balance short-term needs with long-term desired out-
comes of a competitive economy, high quality of life, and sus-
tainable environment. We will also strive to build in exibility
in our plans in order to adjust to changing social and econom-
ic conditions over time …
is section explores policy and design concepts
in Habitat III as they relate to the socio-economi-
cally deprived and the ecological life-support sys-
tem. A preliminary observation is that by listing
most urban policies without qualiers or distinc-
tions, Habitat III essentially calls for a ‘balance’ be-
tween established approaches. Balancing competing
policies through ‘exible’ planning does not suggest
how cities might be physically transformed to re-
verse biodiversity losses and growing social ineq-
uities. Balancing interests is hardly transformative,
which may help explain why policies fail to address
Janis Birkeland / Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
systems design issues. As discussed below, these is-
sues include: the centralization of essential services
which makes people dependent for basic needs on
delivery systems that they cannot control; the ru-
ral-urban divide which is still characterized by ru-
ral-to-urban wealth transfers and forces many to
move to cities; and high density (people or dwell-
ings per land area) which oen reduces access to
survival needs, amenities and green public spaces.
2.1. Policy issues
Centralization and eciency
Habitat III: 51. We commit to promote the development of
urban spatial frameworks, including urban planning and de-
sign instruments that support sustainable management and
use of natural resources and land, appropriate compactness
and density, polycentrism, and mixed uses, through inll or
planned urban extension strategies as applicable, to trigger
economies of scale and agglomeration, strengthen food sys-
tem planning, enhance resource eciency, urban resilience,
and environmental sustainability.
Habitat III presents ‘eciencies of scale and ag-
glomeration’ as a solution. e centralized produc-
tion and delivery of essential services (e.g., power
plants and wires, sewerage and pipes, farms and
roads) may generate economies. However, ecien-
cy through spatial concentration does not guar-
antee equitable distribution or universal access to
basic needs. Although advocating local goods and
services, it does not say how inll and urban ex-
tensions ‘strengthen food planning’ or organize ur-
ban food, water or energy production. Centralized
services oen create dependency on mechanical or
monetary delivery systems that fail in crises (e.g.,
Puerto Rico hurricane), and compact cities cut o
escape routes in emergencies (e.g., New Orleans ty-
phoon). Further, concentric urban form has histor-
ically segregated people by class, race and income,
as land values rise near urban centers. Underprivi-
leged residents in outer areas oen lack the means
to commute to CBDs, which limits their employ-
ment opportunities, life choices and social mobility.
Urban-rural relationships
Habitat III: 49. We commit to support territorial systems
that integrate urban and rural functions into the national and
sub-national spatial frameworks and the systems of cities and
human settlements, promoting sustainable management and
use of natural resources and land, ensuring reliable supply
and value chains that connect urban and rural supply and
demand to foster equitable regional development across the
urban-rural continuum and ll the social, economic, and ter-
ritorial gaps.
Cities have been likened to ‘black holes’ that de-
plete their rural areas socially, economically and
ecologically (Rees, 2002). Material ows between re-
gions and cities are one-directional and ultimately
terminal as they draw down natural and social capi-
tal (Birkeland, Schooneveldt, 2002). Habitat III does
not suggest principles for spatial systems that ensure
reliable rural-urban supply chains, ‘equitable region-
al development, or for determining what ‘gaps’ to
ll in. Nor does it indicate how planners can coun-
teract an economic paradigm that demands cities
compete to attract development. States and cit-
ies oen compete for ‘any’ industry through vari-
ous costly subsidies and incentives. e rural poor
then crowd into cities, imposing additional costs on
urban services. Subsequently, some industries move
overseas to access cheaper labor supplies. To cre-
ate eco-productive urban-rural synergies, PD aims
to align systems of governance, economic and con-
struction systems with regional resources, natural
systems and cultures, along the lines of Bioregion-
al Planning.
Urban density and extension
Habitat III: 52. We encourage spatial development strategies
that take into account, as appropriate, the need to guide ur-
ban extension prioritizing urban renewal by planning for the
provision of accessible and well-connected infrastructure and
services, sustainable population densities, and compact design
and integration of new neighborhoods in the urban fabric,
preventing urban sprawl and marginalization.
A branch of urban design has conated sustain-
ability with densication. In practice, densication
means spatial reduction and taller buildings to in-
crease the number of people or dwellings per unit
of horizontal land area. Eciencies through short-
er distances and less space reduce some negative
Janis Birkeland
/ Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
improving air quality, mitigating temperature inver-
sions and supporting biodiversity incubators.
2.2. Design issues
Retrotting for adaptability
Habitat III: 97. We will promote planned urban extensions,
inll, prioritizing renewal, regeneration, and retrotting of ur-
ban areas, as appropriate, including upgrading of slums and
informal settlements, providing high-quality buildings and
public spaces, promoting integrated and participatory ap-
proaches involving all relevant stakeholders and inhabitants,
avoiding spatial and socio-economic segregation and gentri-
cation, while preserving cultural heritage and preventing and
containing urban sprawl.
Habitat III envisages urban renewal and retrot-
ting, but does not mention designing new and old
buildings to facilitate retrotting for higher environ-
mental standards when design capacity improves.
Buildings can last 100 years but are not yet designed
for likely climatic conditions over their expected
lifespan. For example, building heating plants are
designed for the current local temperature range,
while cooling loads are predicted to increase rapid-
ly. Rigid green buildings constructed today will re-
duce life-quality options for future generations and
impede the transformation to net-positive sustain-
ability. ‘Retrotting for adaptability’ means enabling
future building modications to meet changing
technological standards, social needs and climates—
not just diverse occupant needs and preferences.
PD passive solar retrot modules could signicant-
ly reduce the costs of upgrades while avoiding ma-
jor structural change or heritage losses. is would
cause less demolition waste, and a reduction in
the resource extraction and construction impacts
caused by replacement buildings.
Construction innovation
Habitat III: 75. We commit to encourage national, sub-na-
tional, and local governments, as appropriate, to develop sus-
tainable, renewable, and aordable energy, energy-ecient
buildings and construction modes, and to promote energy
conservation and eciency, which are essential to enable the
reduction of greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions, en-
sure sustainable consumption and production patterns, and
impacts, such as car mileage and may even reduce
the rate of urban sprawl. Densication also creates
wealth from land price ination and increased rent-
al rates. However, it usually eliminates urban bio-
diversity and reduces the capacity of urban areas
to adapt to unpredictable social, political and envi-
ronmental change. Reducing space cannot, in itself,
increase social benets, nature or environmental
amenities. Buildings today are separated mainly
by paving. ey restrict future development pat-
terns, lock-in inequitable and consumerist lifestyles
and limit future planning options. Instead of xat-
ing on numerical density, PD emphasizes creating
more mixed-use public space and using multifunc-
tional design to create synergies among ecological
and social functions.
Green public spaces
Habitat III: 67. We commit to promote the creation and
maintenance of well-connected and well-distributed networks
of open, multi-purpose, safe, inclusive, accessible, green, and
quality public spaces to improve the resilience of cities to dis-
asters and climate change, reducing ood and drought risks
and heat waves, improving food security and nutrition, physi-
cal and mental health, household and ambient air quality, re-
ducing noise, and promoting attractive and livable cities and
human settlements and urban landscapes, prioritizing the
conservation of endemic species.
Historically, concrete barriers diverted ood
waters from cities, while storm-water drains chan-
neled rain water out of cities. ese ‘brittle’ engi-
neering systems exacerbated the impacts of storms
and oods. However, planning for ‘resilience’ has
generally focused more on recovery than redesign
for prevention. Green infrastructure instead empha-
sizes prevention through the use of natural systems
and services (Wesener et al., 2017). While Habitat
III advocates public green space, it does not rec-
oncile this with densication and centralization. It
mentions urban food security, but does not indicate
how open space will be designed to provide food
and water for the underprivileged, and/or general
public in emergencies. How can ‘endemic species
be conserved when contemporary green buildings
and landscapes only feature tokens of remnant eco-
systems? In PD, integrated vertical and horizontal
nature corridors would double as emergency evac-
uation routes when transport systems fail, while
Janis Birkeland / Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
sity 3 times). e focus on ground-level land uses
also omits the potential of vertical spaces to pro-
vide multiple benets. PD posits that the ecolog-
ical needs of land should be determined rst, as
most commercial opportunities are not limited to
particular locations. Once urban spaces, surfaces,
structures are optimized for public gain can eco-
nomic goods and services be integrated.
Design for eco-services
Habitat III: 69. We commit to preserve and promote the
ecological and social function of land, including coastal ar-
eas which support cities and human settlements, and foster
ecosystem-based solutions to ensure sustainable consumption
and production patterns; so that the ecosystems regenerative
capacity is not exceeded.
Habitat III states that the regenerative capaci-
ty of nature should not be exceeded, but it has al-
ready been outstripped. Further, ‘ecosystem-based
solutions’ are not dened. ‘Regeneration’ has been
about restoration and enhancement. Nature cannot
be increased if conned to landscapes leover by
buildings. Since landscaping and green roofs can-
not provide enough space to oset increasing land
degradation, PD proposes ‘design for eco-servic-
es’, which includes the intrinsic, along with instru-
mental, values of nature (Birkeland, 2002). is is
where natural systems support building and eco-
system functions to achieve public benets. For in-
stance, ‘green scaolding’ creates a triple skin that
can support passive thermal systems, building-in-
tegrated eco-services and the like, with little add-
ed embodied materials, energy or cost (Birkeland,
2007). It can reinforce old buildings on the exteri-
or or interior, be structurally-integrated with new
buildings, sit above urban spaces or, alternatively,
above freeways to support algae fuel production or
other carbon sequestration systems.
3. Institutional issues raised by Habitat III
Habitat III: 15. … (b) recognize the leading role of national
governments, as appropriate, in the denition and implemen-
tation of inclusive and eective urban policies and legislation
for sustainable urban development, and the equally important
contributions of sub-national and local governments, as well
help to create new decent jobs, improve public health, and re-
duce the costs of energy supply.
Habitat III calls for ‘energy-ecient buildings
and construction modes’ for jobs, savings and health
benets, but does not call for changing building de-
signs to reduce the demand for resources and the
impacts of industrial supply chains that deliver con-
struction supplies. For example, passive building de-
sign can create signicant upstream savings through
compound (cumulative) eciencies. In PD, passive
energy systems are maximized before energy sys-
tems are specied. Rather than endorsing proven
yet marginalized passive design concepts, however,
Habitat III generally emphasizes innovation. E-
ciency-led innovations can increase materials pro-
cessing and product sales, while reducing jobs and
excluding passive eco-positive design alternatives.
Buildings will soon be ‘printed’ (i.e. large-scale la-
ser printing), yet Habitat III does not explore its im-
plications for sustainability. So far, printing has been
used to display otherwise infeasible and unaorda-
ble sculptural shapes—demonstrating virtuosity not
virtue. If programmed only for eciency, printed
buildings will not produce net public benets.
Mixed and multiple functions
Habitat III: 98. We will promote integrated urban and ter-
ritorial planning, including planned urban extensions based
on the principles of equitable, ecient, and sustainable use of
land and natural resources, compactness, polycentrism, appro-
priate density and connectivity, multiple use of space, as well
as mixed social and economic uses in the built-up areas, to
prevent urban sprawl, to reduce mobility challenges and needs
and service delivery costs per capita, and to harness density
and economies of scale and agglomeration, as appropriate.
Although not always implemented, mixed-use
development has been a panacea for the monocul-
tural land-use patterns that typied the post-WWII
era. However, Habitat III does not state how to
‘harness density’ and ‘urban extensions’ for mixed
land uses and multiple uses of space. On what ba-
sis should the amount of open space per capita or
area be determined? Moreover, the underlying ten-
et of zoning has remained the ‘highest economic use
of land’. roughout Habitat III, economics appears
as the presumed lever for sustainability (economics
is mentioned 73 times, ecology 2 times, biodiver-
Janis Birkeland
/ Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
as civil society and other relevant stakeholders, in a transpar-
ent and accountable manner.
is section moves from conceptual to insti-
tutional frameworks which underlie development
control processes, accountability and standards. In
many countries, state and local governments are re-
sponsible for land use and development, but they
have hesitated to regulate beyond basic health and
safety standards, especially given the pressures of
‘small government’. For example, the Australi-
an building code has only recently included pas-
sive design strategies, widely known by the 1960s.
is hands-o approach was partly due to indus-
try power, but also because planning and building
codes were prescriptive and rigid. Codes oen fa-
vored established technologies, stied innovation or
had arbitrary outcomes in specic contexts. ey
gradually became more performance-based. Hab-
itat III, at time of writing, has not suggested any
performance criteria for management accountabili-
ty or design standards that would provide indicators
of genuine progress. By default, therefore, it leaves
quality control and design standards to rating tools
(below) which are, ironically, prescriptive.
3.1. Management Issues
Habitat III: 41. We commit to promote institutional, politi-
cal, legal, and nancial mechanisms in cities and human set-
tlements to broaden inclusive platforms, in line with national
policies that allow meaningful participation in decision-mak-
ing, planning, and follow-up processes for all, as well as an en-
hanced civil engagement and co-provision and co-production.
Policies are meant to be exible to avoid con-
straining the discretion of decision makers. us,
they can oen be paraphrased as ‘commit to pro-
mote’ all things for everyone. Accordingly, Habitat
III lists many management values without oering
principles by which accountability, quality or suc-
cess can be measured. For example, it sometimes
aligns economics with ecosystem-based manage-
ment, long-term with short-term needs, competi-
tion and collaboration, and compact urban form
with expansion. is balancing approach means
that short-term nancial issues will prevail in each
case, due to the forces of institutional inertia and
unguided commercial innovation. It overlooks the
potential of environmental design to nd alterna-
tive physical solutions that actually accommodate
competing values, needs and interests. us, de-
spite calling for a ‘paradigm shi’, Habitat III ap-
pears to lean unconsciously in favor of maintaining
the status quo: management over design, risk as-
sessment over prevention, incrementalism over sys-
tems change, and interest balancing over conict
Adaptive management
Habitat III: 80. We commit to support the medium- to long-
term adaptation planning process, as well as city-level climate
vulnerability and impact assessments to inform adaptation
plans, policies, programs, and actions that build resilience
of urban inhabitants, including through the use of ecosys-
tem-based adaptation.
Adaptive management has been traced to Aldo
Leopold who was a pragmatic environmental man-
ager (Norton, 2005). In the urban context, it per-
haps rst appeared as ‘incrementalism’ which meant
taking small steps to avoid big mistakes (Davido,
1965). Adaptive management has not yet led to
adaptive design, however. Climate change requires
changeable physical environments, not just exi-
ble mitigation measures. Given their long lifespans,
green buildings that meet today’s narrow sustain-
ability standards will continue to increase materi-
al ows, reduce biodiversity and alienate land from
potentially net-positive developments for decades.
Management focuses on procedures, not on creativ-
ity, and scant attention is paid to investigating gaps
between aims and on-ground outcomes (cf. Swain,
2008). For example, indirect incentive schemes
sometimes have unintended consequences, neces-
sitating more layers of regulations or incentives to
redirect outcomes toward the original objectives.
Regulatory and management mechanisms can con-
strain or reinforce bad design, but only design can
create urban sustainability.
Habitat III: 78. We commit to support shiing from reactive
to more proactive risk-based, all-hazards and all-of-society
approaches, such as raising public awareness of the risk and
promoting ex-ante investments to prevent risks and build re-
silience, while also ensuring timely and eective local respons-
es, to address the immediate needs of inhabitants aected by
natural and man-made disasters, and conicts.
Janis Birkeland / Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
e risk-based approach in management is of-
ten, paradoxically, reactive. e tendency is still
to wait until the likelihood of disasters outweighs
the costs of action. For example, nuclear power
plants near fault lines or coastlines were defended
on grounds that nuclear plant meltdowns were far
less common than earthquakes or Tsunamis, and
therefore low-risk. However, both have occurred
near nuclear plants. Similarly, where the risk-bene-
t balance seemed favorable, buildings were built on
100-year ood plains, leading to many ancillary in-
vestments. ere were huge losses in the 2011 ood
in Brisbane, Australia, despite a previous commit-
ment to preventing development on the 1974 ood
plain. e costs of elevating or moving buildings, or
creating diversion lakes, could have been mitigated
by (portable) commercial and recreational activity
near or on the river. In a PD framework, the invest-
ment in prevention is determined by the costs of the
worst-case scenario, not risk calculations.
Direct action
Habitat III: 129. We urge UN-Habitat to continue its work
to develop its normative knowledge and provide capacity de-
velopment and tools to national, sub-national, and local gov-
ernments in designing, planning, and managing sustainable
urban development.
Design implies direct action to solve prob-
lems in positive and multifunctional ways, rath-
er than through indirect management tools alone
(Birkeland, 2002). Administrative approaches tend
to empower those considered the important actors:
decision makers in business, industry and govern-
ment—not designers and scientists. Managerial le-
vers and pullies stimulate entrepreneurial eorts and
avoid dictating particular solutions, but they gener-
ally appeal to the prot motive. For example, trad-
ing schemes and transferrable development rights
allow exibility in compensatory actions that oset
negative impacts where cheapest to do so. Current-
ly, they do not require developments to pay back
their full public costs anyway. is is partly because
managers seldom have training in design or ecolo-
gy, and are accountable to stakeholders, not future
generations or distant populations. While Habitat
III calls for more tools, it does not suggest that tools
must be fundamentally dierent. In PD, any oset-
ting or trading schemes would require net-positive
3.2. Accountability and standards
Criteria and indicators
Habitat III: 91. … We will encourage appropriate regulato-
ry frameworks and support to local governments in partner-
ing with communities, civil society, and the private sector to
develop and manage basic services and infrastructure ensur-
ing that public interest is preserved and concise goals, respon-
sibilities, and accountability mechanisms are clearly dened.
Although policy declarations leave implemen-
tation to others, Habitat III oers no hint of so-
cial justice criteria or ecological baselines to dene
management or professional accountability regard-
ing urban environments. Business and industry
have not demonstrated adequate ethical or ecologi-
cal leadership. ey are quick to adopt and market
innovations that trigger irreversible systems change,
such as robotic cars, without adequate considera-
tion of the potential socio-economic and environ-
mental repercussions. Industry reporting systems
usually call for continuous improvement, which
assumes current directions are positive. However,
‘more good and less bad’ development only slows
the growing rate of species extinctions, desertica-
tion, wilderness depletion, climate change and dis-
parities of wealth. It does not reverse direction or
increase nature (Birkeland, 2005). When govern-
ments adopt industry criteria, they risk abdicating
their raison-d’être (social contract) unless tangi-
ble, objective sustainability standards are included.
Nevertheless, some local governments have adopt-
ed private sector voluntary rating tools as de facto
design standards (below).
Ecological standards
Habitat III: 76. We commit to make sustainable use of nat-
ural resources and to focus on the resource-eciency of raw
and construction materials like concrete, metals, wood, min-
erals, and land, establish safe material recovery and recycling
facilities, and promote development of sustainable and resil-
ient buildings, prioritizing the usage of local, non-toxic and
recycled materials, and lead-additive-free paints and coatings.
Janis Birkeland
/ Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
Habitat III appears to view buildings as be-
ing about materials, perhaps because it couches
construction in an economic, not environmental,
framework. e emphasis on resource eciency
(economic savings) and non-toxic building compo-
nents (health savings) reects the traditional view of
design as serving to reduce costs. Materials ecien-
cy, while important, seldom improves the natural or
social environment. More resource savings, recycled
building products and non-toxic materials would
only reduce total material ows if there were no
more new buildings. Healthier urban environments
do not address the pollutants already bioaccumu-
lating in nature. Nonetheless, building-integrated
natural systems, as exemplied by ‘living machines’,
can improve environmental as well as human health
(Todd, Todd, 1994). Habitat III does not call for im-
provements in ecological health, let alone reverse
the direction of society’s unilateral relationship with
nature. It is now meaningless to speak of bringing
humans and nature into balance: cities must protect,
restore and increase nature.
Economic justice
Habitat III: 5. By readdressing the way cities and human set-
tlements are planned, designed, nanced, developed, governed,
and managed, the New Urban Agenda will help to end pover-
ty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions, reduce inequal-
ities, promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic
growth, achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all
women and girls, in order to fully harness their vital con-
tribution to sustainable development, improve human health
and well-being, as well as foster resilience and protect the en-
Habitat III does not suggest how needs like pov-
erty and hunger will be addressed by settlements,
or how decision frameworks might be changed to
enable economic and environmental justice. It does
not oer means to redress inequities and prejudice,
other than to ‘fully harness’ the contribution of all
women and girls. is appears to favor the assim-
ilation of the socio-economically deprived into the
‘modern’ machine, reecting the old view that social
justice will trickle down from urban development’s
contribution to economic growth. Integration of the
marginalized in an economic system that transfers
wealth vertically is neither new nor transformative.
Further, no measure of assessing inclusive, equitable
growth is proered. Even genuine progress indica-
tors (GPI) are disregarded, which are well-estab-
lished economic measures aimed at assessing life
quality (Hamilton, 1999). By default, Habitat III tac-
itly endorses gross domestic product (GDP), widely
understood as recording nancial transactions that
have harmful outcomes as positive.
Social equity
Habitat III: 134. … to expand their potential revenue base,
such as through multi-purpose cadasters, local taxes, fees, and
service charges, in line with national policies, while ensuring
that women and girls, children and youth, older persons, per-
sons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and local communi-
ties, and poor households are not disproportionately aected.
In a world where eight men have the equivalent
wealth of half the global population (Elliott, 2017),
ensuring that the disadvantaged are ‘not dispropor-
tionately aected’ does not mean a reduction in so-
cial stratication or discrimination. Projects that
increase social inequities (e.g., gated communities)
are typically approved as-of-right if they meet code
requirements. Even in the absence of exclusionary
zoning, other socially-detrimental land uses, such as
casinos, occupy space. Land use is progressively be-
coming zero sum. e burden of evidence in devel-
opment disputes rests upon those adversely aected
to show why and how they are injured, despite the
borderless quality of environmental impacts. is
is a legacy of the view that wealth creation brings
‘progress’ which ultimately trickles down to every-
one. In contrast, PD calls for project ‘purposes’ to
be considered in development approvals. A Hierar-
chy of Innovation is provided to assess a project’s
net contribution to public welfare (Birkeland, 2008).
3.3. Summary comments
To review, Habitat III, or New Urban Agenda, is
a welcome call to action. Despite an extensive list
of urban design policies, however, it does not re-
solve the basic contradictions behind them. Deci-
sion makers are le to balance competing values
and interests with conventional methods and strat-
egies. is is the ‘fallacy of the middle, where solu-
tions fall outside the spectrum created by traditional
Janis Birkeland / Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
dualisms. Existing physical and institutional struc-
tures cannot correct the problems with which they
co-evolved. Since customary incremental approach-
es do not deal with sustainability imperatives and
barriers, the question is whether gaps in policy are
plugged by implementation strategies and incen-
tives schemes. e primary instrument for improv-
ing sustainable design quality is now green building
rating tools, so they are briey described rst. en
a leading-edge urban biodiversity design tool, the
BCS (biodiversity credit scheme; see section 4.1),
is examined to see how it addresses the ecological
decits that are ignored in contemporary urban pol-
4. Green building rating and marketing
Green building rating and marketing tools are in-
dustry-led, membership-based, voluntary accredita-
tion schemes. ey were introduced from 1990 by
green building councils that emerged in response
to the growing reach and complexity of building
and planning codes and environmental impact as-
sessments. Rating tools certify designs that promise
high operational eciency and healthier living envi-
ronments. ey have elevated the status of sustain-
able design in the building industry, and spawned
a variety of tools for predicting the performance of
designs. eir use has grown rapidly; for example,
there were 1,715 Green Star certied buildings in
Australia by 2018. Being voluntary, however, most
construction is not aected. Also, the priority has
been on uptake by developers, so they raise the bar
slowly. Many cities have now added industry-led
rating tools to their development approval process-
es. is means that local governments have begun
to (guratively) deputize the private sector to estab-
lish and verify design standards.
e early rating tools focused on energy and
resource eciency, since ecient equipment, in-
sulation, water recycling, healthy materials and so
on, benet investors and owners nancially. ey
eventually pay back through operational savings,
status and branding. However, resource eciency
can only delay environmental destruction. While
rating tools have gradually included more social
and environmental criteria, they still only count
improvements over contemporary site conditions,
conventional buildings, or construction manage-
ment practices. ey do not compare building pro-
posals against sustainability standards. Also, rating
tools do not count the cumulative ecological losses
caused by certied green buildings. at is, they do
not aim to be better than no building at all. More-
over, since project proponents only need to gain a
certain number of points across a range of catego-
ries, they can pick the low-hanging fruit. us, as
was noted years ago, some highly-ranked buildings
only achieved average energy eciency (Newsham
et al., 2009).
Regarding policy gaps, rating tools almost never
address urban-rural imbalances, rectify poverty or
inequities of economic opportunity, increase ecolog-
ical carrying capacity or net biodiversity, provide lo-
cal food and water security, or access to basic needs,
physical safety and essential services. Further, they
generally only count operational (post-construc-
tion) impacts, omitting embodied materials, energy,
water and waste. Despite occasional language like
‘public benets’, ‘net gains’ or ‘positive, they do not
contemplate or measure net-positive contributions
to the surrounding social and ecological conditions.
When rating tools omit negative impacts and label
reductions as ‘net positive, they eectively label less
harmful features as sustainable. In eect, they grant
‘indulgences’ to unsustainable projects and delay
change. Interestingly, by using systems boundaries
and thresholds to exclude remote impacts, rating
tools simplify the analyses, but bypass environmen-
tal impact assessment. e proposed BCS (biodi-
versity credit scheme; see next section) begins to
reverse this by including several kinds of environ-
mental impact assessment, 25 years later.
4.1. e Green Star biodiversity credit scheme
e Australian Green Building Council’s Land Use
& Ecology Category Review proposes a biodiversi-
ty credit scheme, or ‘BCS’. e BCS aims to incor-
porate ecological issues into the Australian ‘Green
Star’ accreditation scheme. It is intended to go be-
yond other rating tools to improve biodiversity and
ecological outcomes in the urban environment.
Janis Birkeland
/ Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
e proposal includes an appendix on urban bi-
odiversity in general. It is arguably the most ad-
vanced biodiversity component in a rating tool so
far, as most simply promote the use of surrogates
like ground-level ‘permeability’ or species ‘richness’
(number of targeted species) in broad terms. A key
question is: would the BCS increase biodiversity in
a whole-system sense, or just relative to what was
there before with or without a new building? Like
Habitat III, the BCS is abridged here and is sub-
ject to modication, so current versions should be
inspected. First, a few preliminary observations
should be made.
e BCS proposes a key role for the community
in identifying ecological values, in part to inculcate
a ‘human-nature connection. First, the value of eco-
system services as currently perceived by humans
is not a reliable measure of worth. Second, this im-
plies that environmental protection must wait for
environmental awareness or cultural change. While
public engagement and awareness-raising is vital,
the potential role of the physical environment in so-
cial transformation has been overlooked (Birkeland,
2014). Cities designed to feel and function like liv-
ing landscapes could arguably increase ecological
awareness more than an impending sense of loss.
Another concern is that most rating tools simply
add up points, and the BCS does not appear to do
otherwise. Since the BCS assesses the categories of
protection, impact minimization and enhancement
separately, a project may get enough points for the
‘assessment activity’ required for each of these cat-
egories without achieving on-ground positive out-
4.2. BCS (biodiversity credit scheme) pro-
posed actions and outcomes
e BCS desired outcomes are to: increase the
amount of green spaces in cities; increase biodiver-
sity to ensure the healthy functioning of ecosystems;
connect landscapes and habitat to support biodiver-
sity; create links between natural and human-made
landscapes to support biodiversity and ecological
function; promote responsible restoration of the en-
vironment not just locally, but for the surrounding
landscape. e desired actions are: the selection of
sites within current urban boundaries or sites with
limited initial ecological value; early engagement
with local governments to promote aligned respons-
es to increase urban biodiversity; the protection or
enhancement, including creation, of any environ-
mental qualities of the site; the creation of habitats
and ecosystem services on-site and across the land-
scape that increase the resilience of the city; and the
consideration of the use of ecological osets to fur-
ther promote land or ecosystem restoration domes-
tically. e principles for awarding credits are each
summarized and then discussed below.
‘Protect ecological value
Protect ecological value by using sites with limited
ecological value, reusing previously developed land,
remediating contaminated land, avoiding ecological-
ly-sensitive land, and protecting existing ecological
features on sites or borders during site preparation
and construction. A high-level and timely ‘baseline
assessment’ should identify, map and assess terres-
trial and aquatic habitats to determine: their re-
covery potential; opportunities for protection and
restoration; adjacent and connected habitats and
values; distance to signicant biodiversity values;
direct and indirect site impacts; and functional and
structural connectivity requirements. A ‘biodiversi-
ty management plan’ should then be undertaken to
protect and improve ecological values on site and at
local and regional scales. (Note that this provision
actually concerns landscapes, not buildings.)
Discussion: is provision does not preclude
non-certied, ecologically-damaging projects on or
near ecologically-sensitive sites. Such projects do
not pay for green building certication and are not
subject to these criteria. Any building and landscape
construction, even if on remediated land, uses man-
ufactured products that usually involved the frag-
mentation of native species habitats and reductions
of the natural environment. Moreover, this credit
applies mainly to new buildings. In a new develop-
ment, the addition of green spaces and/or links to
existing habitats would seldom compensate for the
ecological damage caused during construction. PD,
in contrast, suggests that (otherwise unavoidable)
Janis Birkeland / Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
negative construction impacts could be oset by
retrotting other buildings with building-integrat-
ed eco-services and biodiversity nurseries.
‘Minimize ecological impact’
Minimize ecological impact by limiting changes to
on-site ecology that have indirect or osite ecolog-
ical impacts, promoting retention of ecological val-
ues, and conducting an ‘osite impact assessment’
that maps the condition of local and regional ter-
restrial and aquatic habitats. To demonstrate impact
minimization, a ‘baseline assessment’ and a meth-
od ‘with metrics’ is required for measuring pre- and
post-construction changes in biodiversity: the per-
centage improvement of the site’s ecological value
from time of purchase to aer construction. is
should include the permeable surface areas for rain-
water drainage and reduce run-o, and a detailed
‘habitat assessment’ that lists habitat types, site con-
dition, site context and connectivity, existing and
potential species and their habitat requirements.
Discussion: ese assessments focus on the eco-
logical values of the old and new landscape around
buildings from time of land purchase. Again, re-
lying on landscaping to increase ecosystem func-
tions and services will seldom compensate for the
building’s physical footprint (ground coverage), let
alone the ecological footprint. More landscaping
and permeable surfaces on leover ground areas
are not sucient to increase nature beyond even
pre-construction conditions. Also, on smaller pro-
jects, ecological assessments of landscapes can be
impractical, so certication will not likely be sought.
Where biodiversity losses in the construction lifecy-
cle cannot realistically be calculated, a PD rule-of-
thumb is that the volume of new ecological space in
buildings should equal the gross oor area.
‘Enhance ecological value and biodiversity’
Enhance ecological value and biodiversity by allow-
ing o-site actions that provide “additional’ bene-
t, while prioritizing on-site biodiversity actions
and management practices. e minimum require-
ment is conservation of existing high-quality biodi-
versity values and a measurable expansion of urban
biodiversity values. Enhancing and creating onsite
ecological values may require that the ‘additional
benet’ of osite actions improve onsite and osite
connectivity. Value creation is achieved by struc-
tures that create habitats, such as nesting boxes,
green roofs and bio-swales. A ‘biodiversity manage-
ment plan’ should assess the change from pre-con-
struction conditions, consider o-site ecology, show
evidence of public engagement and recommend ac-
tions to facilitate connectivity in the local area, as
agreed with local authorities and ecologists.
Discussion: Improving the pre-construction eco-
logical conditions on an old urban building with no
surrounding open space could provide an excuse to
replace rather than retrot a building, causing toxic
demolition waste. ere is no reference to incorpo-
rating building-integrated ecological space, beyond
‘nesting boxes, bird boxes, articial chimneys’ (de-
signed to exclude predatory species is omitted).
Suggested ‘ecological enhancements’ include osite
connectivity improvements like ‘amphibian tunnels
under highways’ and green roofs or walls. Facelis
cannot compensate a new multistory buildings ad-
dition to material ows; however, some tall dou-
ble-skin buildings have dedicated entire oors to
gardens (for ventilation purposes, not biodiversity).
PD would compare the new building and retrot
options as if neither structure yet existed.
‘Connect ecological networks’
Connect ecological networks by maintaining corri-
dors across the landscape to minimize long-term
impacts, ensure structural and functional landscape
connectivity and increase species cover and rich-
ness. Ecological patches should be connected, bar-
riers to connectivity reduced, and/or existing green
chains, corridors or habitat ‘stepping stones’ should
be extended. A ‘landscape and habitat plan’ should
recommend actions to support an increase in bio-
diversity, to establish and maintain ecological net-
works, and measure the level of connectedness and
changes in species richness, both onsite and o-
site, over time. e landscape plan should establish
pre-construction conditions to set biodiversity en-
hancement benchmarks based on changes from the
baseline (time of purchase) using ‘appropriate’ met-
rics and thresholds for measuring improvements.
Janis Birkeland
/ Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
Discussion: Connectivity is vital to biodiversi-
ty protection. However, green corridors can be to-
kenistic or even ecologically problematic. Measuring
connectedness and species richness does not control
disease or invasive species. us, urban ecosystem
enclaves and biodiversity incubators are also neces-
sary to reseed the bioregions. All buildings should
eventually be retrotted with above-ground natural
landscapes so that cities become a living landscape.
Where buildings cannot be eco-retrotted, selected
sites could be converted into parks or multilayered
biodiversity preserves. Development rights could
then be transferred to other properties in more
suitable locations (Register, 2006). However, where
osite buildings are retrotted for net-positive o-
setting purposes, PD recommends that the net im-
pacts of both projects should be tallied.
‘Manage on-site and restore o-site
Manage on-site and restore o-site enhancements
by establishing an adaptive management frame-
work for urban ecology in the local and regional
area to ensure the long-term management of bio-
diversity, habitats and landscapes through on-going
maintenance or improvements, and monitoring and
‘performance evaluations’ to establish, maintain and
improve biodiversity values, habitats and ecological
networks. is involves ‘long-term reporting’ and
collaborative arrangements with key stakeholders.
e participatory, adaptive approach is expected to
result in future conservation actions and landscape
interventions. Osite compensation should not sub-
stitute for on-site actions and should be carefully
managed, monitored and evaluated. (Note: ‘oset-
ting’ concerned many BCS participants because it
has been used to permit the destruction of relative-
ly pristine environments.)
Discussion: e BCS recognizes that osets can
be tokenistic. Osite restoration activities seldom
compensate for the full lifecycle impacts of con-
struction works, and there is usually a net loss
in nature. Restoring damaged osite ecosystems
should not absolve developments for negative onsite
impacts. Nevertheless, osetting systems are essen-
tial. PD therefore calls for ‘net-positive biodiver-
sity osetting’ (Birkeland, Knight-Lenihan, 2016).
For example, substituting monocultural agricul-
ture with vertical urban/rural plant farming could
restore vast amounts of land to near-native condi-
tions while saving resources and reducing net im-
pacts. While restoring farmland to native conditions
does not increase ecological space beyond pre-hu-
man conditions, it may qualify as net positive where
combined with building-integrated biodiversity in-
cubators and enclaves.
5. Conclusion
In conclusion, current sustainable built environ-
ment policy declarations such as the New Urban
Agenda, and implementation schemes such as the
Green Star biodiversity credit scheme, as presently
conceived, will not deliver the basic physical pre-
requisites of ecological sustainability and socio-eco-
nomic justice. Managerial approaches that seek
incremental improvements upon unsustainable de-
velopment templates, or at best restorative actions,
will only achieve ‘less bad growth. Ambiguous no-
tions of balance, resilience, engagement, connectiv-
ity, regeneration and exibility can be claimed by
almost any development. More awareness, man-
agement and accounting activity does not translate
into proactive strategies or direct design action, let
alone lead to the systems change that sustainabili-
ty requires. Since there are irreconcilable dierences
between human constructs and biological ecosys-
tems, the former must change. To this end, PD pro-
poses a set of xed sustainability standards along
with dierent systems of design, planning and de-
cision-making to realize an ecologically- and social-
ly-positive urban living environment (1).
(1) is article is part of the 40th issue of Bulletin
of Geography. Socio-economic Series entitled “Sus-
tainability—dierently”, edited by Mirek Dymitrow
and Keith Halfacree (Dymitrow, Halfacree, 2018).
Janis Birkeland / Bulletin of Geography. Socio-economic Series / 40 (2018): 41–56
Birkeland, J. editor, 2002: Design for sustainability: A
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... Costa et al. (2008) asserted that the purposes of greening is to safeguard the future green spaces; improving the quality of urban areas and especially the neighbourhoods; making cities more attractive and the enhancement of the wellbeing of local people and tourists. It is furthered in Birkeland (2018) that the inclusion of social amenities (public spaces, plazas or building features like green walls that clean and re-oxygenate urban air); prevention of environmental risks, correction of offsite environmental and equity deficits; provision of accessible refuges with inbuilt food sources and water for emergencies are drivers for green cities. Other drivers emphasised by M€ uller and Mattissek (2018) like promoting cycling holds the potential to increase mobility choices of environmentally disadvantaged groups, while concurrently reducing GHG emissions and improving the quality of air. ...
... It thus inferred that these imperative reasons informed the respondents agreement to the need for a greener and a healthier planet as critical driver to green cities development. Besides, as agreed by majority of the respondents, "improving air quality" was identified as a key driver to the development of green cities. Clean and re-oxygenate urban air as climate change mitigation and adaption strategies has been debated in the literature by several authors (Damodaran et al. 2015;Lewis 2015;Birkeland 2018;M€ uller and Mattissek 2018). Air pollution seriously affects human health, damages the ecosystems and causes the deterioration of buildings and monuments. ...
... Additionally, respondents agreed that "improving urban areas quality" was a key driver to the development of green cities. The inclusion of social amenities like public spaces, plazas or building features like green walls are key drivers for green cities development (Birkeland 2018;M€ uller and Mattissek 2018). Lehmann (2011) advocated for measures to allow spatial distribution of urban areas through the introduction of coping practices such as walkable neighbourhoods, and mixed land uses. ...
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There is a lack of research on the drivers for green cities development in developing countries. This study aims to investigate the key drivers for green cities development in Ghana. To this end, 19 drivers were identified from a comprehensive literature review, and a questionnaire survey was performed with 154 professionals with green cities development experience. In using the exploratory factor analysis and the fuzzy synthetic evaluation, 4 green cities driver criteria were developed viz., health and wellbeing; green attraction and social inclusion; green governance and management; and green environment and materials. Though this study was conducted in Ghana, the lessons could be adapted for promoting green cities development in other countries that share similar characteristics with Ghana. This paper presents the first comprehensive empirical study on the drivers for green cities development in Ghana, contributing to the green cities’ development body of knowledge. The findings can help policymakers and practitioners promote widespread green cities development.
... Systems thinking requires consideration of impacts beyond the physical boundaries of a site and over time (i.e., intra and intergenerational equity). Standards that predominantly focus on an individual building or community in isolation, or one specific timeframe, can miss potential synergies between different intentions [43]. For example, by promoting the intentions of 'security and safety' a standard might encourage overtly protective designs, such as gated developments, which can actually reduce the sense of wellbeing and security for those living and working around a site [44,45]. ...
... The selection and balance of standard criteria or intentions is a further problematic area. Critics argue that standards remain overly prescriptive, establishing a 'one-size fits all' approach, and restricting adaptive, user-led, inclusive, and creative responses which deliver more locally appropriate outcomes [16,21,43,50,51]. Built environment standards typically contain 'core' criteria that all applicants are expected to meet and optional criteria that can be selected in response to local context. ...
... Evaluation at earlier stages does not necessarily translate into material changes in procurement, construction, and operations later [17,24,58]. Such static or even regressive evaluative responses can be linked to a number of factors, including: a failure to periodically assess activities; risk adversity by more 'traditional' contractors, planners or clients; the prioritisation of more immediate concerns (e.g., finance); perceived costs of implementing a standard; and the voluntary nature of standards [43]. ...
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A growing number of international standards promote Healthy Built Environment (HBE) principles which aim to enhance occupant and user health and wellbeing. Few studies examine the implementation of these standards; whether and how they affect health through changes to built-environment design, construction, and operations. This study reviews a set of sustainability and HBE standards, based on a qualitative analysis of standard documents, standard and socio-technical literature on normalization and negotiation, and interviews with 31 practitioners from four geographical regions. The analysis indicates that standards can impact individual, organizational, and market-scale definitions of an HBE. Some changes to practice are identified, such as procurement and internal layout decisions. There is more limited evidence of changes to dominant, short-term decision-making practices related to cost control and user engagement in operational decisions. HBE standards risk establishing narrow definitions of health and wellbeing focused on building occupants rather than promoting broader, contextually situated, principles of equity, inclusion, and ecosystem functioning crucial for health. There is a need to improve sustainability and HBE standards to take better account of local contexts and promote systems thinking. Further examination of dominant collective negotiation processes is required to identify opportunities to better embed standards within organizational practice.
... The theory of complex embodiment [24] emphasizes how the built environment provides preferential access to those with able bodies, which marginalizes those whose bodies do not conform to those normative expectations. Although British Columbia has a reputation for being very physically accessible [43] there are still barriers in the physical environment [44][45][46] that can be viewed as socially constructed forms of discrimination towards people with disabilities [45,[47][48][49]. The findings are congruent with ongoing "design apartheid", which was a phrase coined by Imrie [48] over 20 years ago to describe "how built spaces alienate certain groups of people while favouring able-bodied needs and values as a result of power structures within the broader context of society" [p. ...
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Purpose: To identify the experiences, needs, and strengths of people with incomplete spinal cord injury who can ambulate and to explore and discuss potential supports, services, and programs that would best assist them in the community. Material and methods: In this qualitative descriptive study, interviews were the primary means of data collection. These were supplemented with descriptive standardized measures of function and life satisfaction. Qualitative data were analyzed thematically. Results: Twenty-four participants were interviewed, their average age was 55 years and 46% were female. We identified three themes: 'I really couldn't go there', described the physical and social barriers experienced by participants, 'It'd be really nice to let the public know there are people out there like me' expressed the desire for greater social understanding of incomplete spinal cord injury, and 'I just don't quit', displayed the perseverance that participants demonstrated following their injury. Conclusion: Findings indicate service providers to improve the inclusion of ambulatory individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury in their programs. Suggestions include designing programs (community, healthcare, return to work, peer support), environments using the principles of universal design for people with incomplete spinal cord injury who ambulate, and increasing consideration of their perspectives.Implication for rehabilitation:People with incomplete spinal cord injury who can ambulate live with invisible impairments, which are often not acknowledged by family, friends, health professionals, and people with complete spinal cord injuryThey may feel excluded from activities (organized by spinal cord injury associations) that were originally designed for people with complete spinal cord injuryGreater awareness among health professionals, friends, family, and people with complete spinal cord injury of the needs of people with incomplete spinal cord injury who can ambulate is needed to increase their inclusion.
... Conforme argumenta Birkeland (2018), a proteção e/ou criação de habitats e serviços ecossistêmicos aumentam a resiliência da cidade. A transpiração de plantas contribui de forma significativa e com menor custo financeiro para a regulação dos fluxos de água para a atmosfera, além de contribuir para a difusão da poluição através da retenção de sedimentos (cidades "esponja"). ...
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A publicação apresenta o estado da arte no tema de políticas e soluções na gestão da água para cidades sustentáveis, a partir da aplicação integrada dos métodos Revisão Bibliográfica Sistemática (RBS) e o Método Heurístico. As políticas mapeadas foram conectadas às soluções disponíveis na plataforma OICS, com validação de especialistas em todo o Brasil e workshops com gestores municipais. Para auxiliar as prefeituras municipais na elaboração de projetos locais, foi elaborado um espectro das dimensões necessárias à formulação de políticas para a gestão mais sustentável da água nas cidades, com destaque para as soluções fitorremediação para ampliação da ecoeficiência do sistema de saneamento e abastecimento de água. Políticas e soluções para cidades sustentáveis: saneamento/água Publisher: CENTRO DE GESTÃO E ESTUDOS ESTRATÉGICOS-CGEE ISBN 978-65-5775-046-9
... At a local scale, national governments have often delegated the responsibility of land-use planning and development to municipal authorities [8,9]. This means that local authorities, such as municipalities, represent the core institutional unit in charge of the decisions and regulations concerning the neighbourhoods, inhabitants, and built environment of their respective jurisdiction [10]. ...
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Steering towards a path of sustainability and resilience in urban environments depends greatly on effective institutions, governance and strategic planning. National governments are increasingly expanding municipal institutions’ mandates by delegating decision making on land-use planning and urban development to local and regional levels. This trend poses municipalities with a complex challenge of setting clear sustainability targets and lifting the institutional barriers inside and outside of their organisation. Based on the business motivation model (BMM), this study presents the results of a thematic analysis identifying barriers and enablers characterizing the institutional capacity base of a municipal organisation in the context of sustainability at an urban level. The results show that the most relevant barrier is the lack of standardisation in sustainability-related working practices, whereas the main institutional enablers relate to flexible working directives that promote the development of innovative projects. This points towards a strong need for a more integrated, dynamic and powerful development approach for sustainable urban areas on a local level.
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A publicação apresenta o estado da arte no tema de políticas e soluções em ambiente construído para cidades sustentáveis, a partir da aplicação integrada dos métodos Revisão Bibliográfica Sistemática (RBS) e o Método Heurístico. As políticas mapeadas foram conectadas às soluções disponíveis na plataforma OICS, com validação de especialistas em todo o Brasil e workshops com gestores municipais. Para auxiliar as prefeituras municipais na elaboração de projetos locais, foi elaborado um espectro das dimensões necessárias à formulação de políticas para um ambiente construído mais sustentável nas cidades, com destaque para habitações de interesse social. Políticas e soluções para cidades sustentáveis: ambiente construído Publisher: CENTRO DE GESTÃO E ESTUDOS ESTRATÉGICOS-CGEE ISBN 978-65-5775-044-5
Urban policy and development are important mechanisms to reduce environmental degradation that could cause catastrophic damage to Earth’s systems. This chapter explains how the planetary health goals of zero carbon, resource efficiency (or circular economy) and biodiversity are related to health. Policy and design approaches for these goals are reviewed in detail. For example, zero carbon development is promoted by national and urban policies that create subsidies for zero carbon energy, reduce the need for transport-related energy use, provide anchor uses for decentralised energy systems or require a percentage of zero carbon energy supply from all new development. New development may use on-site renewable energy sources and reduce energy use through the design, location and orientation of buildings. Mobility infrastructure at all scales can support active travel for commuting and leisure, including walking, cycling and public transport and reducing the need for fossil fuel transport.KeywordsPlanetary healthZero carbonBiodiversityResource efficiencyCircular economy
Regenerative approaches to the built environment represent a conceptual departure from reductionist sustainability fields. By utilizing the inherent interconnections between social-ecological systems as an informing foundation, regenerative fields have the potential to facilitate transformation towards sustainable cities. This paper provides a systematic review of publications on urban regenerative thinking and practice, including across urban development stages and sectors. Results indicate precincts as the optimum scale for regenerative intervention and provide insights into the worldviews underpinning regenerative approaches. The targets and aspirations of regenerative fields are well-documented, along with the practical challenges to effective implementation. Gaps in the literature are identified including paradigmatic and definitional inconsistencies across urban regenerative thinking and practice. Similarly, there is a lack of detail on the realization of planning aspirations at subsequent stages of building lifecycles. The sample also does not extensively outline the specific engagement mechanisms required to remove barriers to regenerative practice or encourage its uptake across geographic and legislative contexts. Whilst the operationalization of regenerative principles in high-density urban environments remains a challenge, these fields offer transformative frameworks to not only mitigate further harm but also achieve net-positive natural and social outcomes.
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It is increasingly appreciated how all societies contain many ‘wicked problems’ or socio-cultural challenges that are multidimensional, hard to pindown and consequently extremely challenging to solve. Obtaining functional and inclusive societal organisation is not a simple matter of ‘doing it’ by subscribing to winning formulae as there are, for example, many choices to be made in the process. Moreover, given that conceptual frameworks always guide thoughts, judgments and actions, how we relate to ‘sustainability’ specifically becomes relevant if we aim to achieve a more liveable society. This journal issue expressly engages with the consequent need to recognise this complexity. It assembles a set of ‘brave’ takes on far-advanced problems bedevilling conventionally conceptualised paths towards sustainability. Arguing against oversimplification that comes from domination of polarising concepts and unquestioned practices and rhetorics, the aim is to foster explorations into new territories from which we may learn. Ultimately, the desire to deconstruct pernicious divisions and create new hybrid syntheses can progress sustainability.
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This article lays out both a critique of the oxymoron ‘sustainable development’, and the potential and nuances of a Post-Development agenda. We present ecological swaraj from India and Degrowth from Europe as two examples of alternatives to development. This gives a hint of the forthcoming book, provisionally titled The Post-Development Dictionary, that is meant to deepen and widen a research, dialogue and action agenda for activists, policymakers and scholars on a variety of worldviews and practices relating to our collective search for an ecologically wise and socially just world. This volume could be one base in the search for alternatives to United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in an attempt to truly transform the world. In fact, it is an agenda towards the pluriverse: ‘a world where many worlds fit’, as the Zapatista say.
Biodiversity offsetting is used in both urban development and regional resource consent processes to compensate for unavoidable environmental impacts. Using North American, Australian and New Zealand examples, the limitations, opportunities and contradictions of the conventional approach in biodiversity offsetting schemes relevant to the built urban environment were reviewed. It was found that there is not adequate accounting for incremental and cumulative effects over time and space, especially given ecological uncertainty. Benchmarking against current conditions has sanctioned a gradual loss of ecological carrying capacity and biodiversity. Net biodiversity gains are possible, but this will require shifts in frameworks for assessing both buildings and biodiversity offsets towards net positive planning and design.
A greater appreciation of architecture as a means to drive social, economic and environmental sustainability is emerging around the world. Practices are beginning to adopt closed-loop and cradle-to-cradle strategies, and some are even aiming toward net-positive design. However, life cycle assessment (LCA) tools do not measure ‘beyond zero’. The question of how net-positive carbon sequestration (i.e. impacts beyond net-zero) can be assessed within LCA is explored through a proposed carbon amortization performance (CAP) method. CAP overlays energy-related carbon and biomass sequestration over the building life cycle. CO2 equivalence (CO2e) is used to combine both positive and negative impacts from different sources. Net-positive contributions are defined as those exceeding ‘zero operational carbon’ – after the embodied carbon is paid back during the life cycle. The CAP method was tested on a building design with the technical support of multidisciplinary experts. The results indicate that a building can sequester more carbon over its life cycle than it emits by using on-site current renewable energy technology and extensive building-integrated vegetation. Buildings designed on net-positive development principles can potentially reverse their carbon impact and begin to regenerate their regions, while providing multiple eco-services.
City planning is a means for determining policy, appropriate policy in a democracy is determined through political debate. The right course of action is always a matter of choice, never of fact. Planners should engage in the political process as advocates of the interests of government and other groups. Intelligent choice about public policy would be aided if different political, social, and economic interests produced city plans. Plural plans rather than a single agency plan should be presented to the public. Politicizing the planning process requires that the planning function be located in either or both the executive and legislative branches and the scope of planning be broadened to include all areas of interest to the public.
We conducted a re-analysis of data supplied by the New Buildings Institute and the US Green Buildings Council on measured energy use data from 100 LEED-certified commercial and institutional buildings. These data were compared to the energy use of the general US commercial building stock. We also examined energy use by LEED certification level, and by energy-related credits achieved in the certification process. On average, LEED buildings used 18–39% less energy per floor area than their conventional counterparts. However, 28–35% of LEED buildings used more energy than their conventional counterparts. Further, the measured energy performance of LEED buildings had little correlation with certification level of the building, or the number of energy credits achieved by the building at design time. Therefore, at a societal level, green buildings can contribute substantial energy savings, but further work needs to be done to define green building rating schemes to ensure more consistent success at the individual building level. Note, these findings should be considered as preliminary, and the analyses should be repeated when longer data histories from a larger sample of green buildings are available.
This paper is a contribution to the continuing development of the methods and results for the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, also known as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). It attempts a more systematic approach to some of the components of the GPI. It includes a more careful specification of types of capital and more plausible methods of estimating the costs of depletion of non-renewable resources and environmental damage due to ozone depletion. In addition, the paper attempts a more comprehensive treatment of the value of time, including the costs of unemployment and overwork. Results of the GPI calculations for Australia over the period 1950–1996 are presented and analysed.
While many disciplines contribute to environmental conservation, there is little successful integration of science and social values. Arguing that the central problem in conservation is a lack of effective communication, Bryan Norton shows in Sustainability how current linguistic resources discourage any shared, multidisciplinary public deliberation over environmental goals and policy. In response, Norton develops a new, interdisciplinary approach to defining sustainability—the cornerstone of environmental policy—using philosophical and linguistic analyses to create a nonideological vocabulary that can accommodate scientific and evaluative environmental discourse. Emphasizing cooperation and adaptation through social learning, Norton provides a practical framework that encourages an experimental approach to language clarification and problem formulation, as well as an interdisciplinary approach to creating solutions. By moving beyond the scientific arena to acknowledge the importance of public discourse, Sustainability offers an entirely novel approach to environmentalism.
Janis Birkeland presents the innovative new paradigm of 'Positive Development' in which the built environment provides greater life quality, health, amenity and safety for all without sacrificing resources or money. With a different form of design, development itself can become a 'sustainability solution'. A cornerstone of this new paradigm is the eco-retrofitting of the vast urban fabric we already inhabit. The author presents a revolutionary new tool called SmartMode to achieve this end. This book challenges everyone working in or studying the areas of sustainable development, planning, architecture or the built environment to rethink their current ideas and practices.