ULI Sustainability Series: Emerging Trends and Issues

On May 16 students, green sector professionals and sustainability enthusiasts attended the third session of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Washington’s Sustainability Beyond LEED series.

The program featured engaging presentations and discussions on sustainable development led by three prominent urban thinkers and sustainability leaders: Joe Schilling of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, Steve Mouzon of the New Urban Guild and Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The three presentations provided a snapshot into current trends and issues pertaining to sustainability today-major themes: sustainability planning and policy-making (Schilling), conceptual framework (Mouzon), urban design and livability (Benfield).

Joe Schilling delivered a lively presentation on the current state of local sustainability planning in the United States. He pointed out that sustainability planning remains an evolving practice as cities search for relevant planning models they can tailor to meet local policy priorities and political realities. Translating sustainability‘s broad principles into practice is a complex planning endeavor; with a growing number of cities designing and adopting sustainability plans, planners must craft holistic frameworks that include ambitious goals, realistic targets and a myriad of environmental, economic and social policies and programs.

Steve Mouzon introduced and explained the concept of the Original Green, which embraces the idea that historic towns and buildings are inherently sustainable and “green”.  Mouzon noted that our ancestors, by constructing “durable”, “flexible”, ‘frugal” and “lovable” structures with locally available materials, built green intuitively and created sustainable, pedestrian oriented places with abundance of green space.  The “Original Green is the collective intelligence behind those places. In common terms, it’s the sustainability all our great-grandparents knew by heart “, Mouzon said. Great examples of traditional construction patterns and sustainable ancient settlements can be found in the renaissance town of Pienza and the Sorrentine Peninsula, both located in Italy.

Atlanta BeltLine: aerial rendering from the Northeast.

Kaid Benfield discussed how neighborhood location and design affect walkability and ultimately human health. By presenting projects of neighborhoods that are undergoing positive change in today’s America, along with the ingredients that make them likely to succeed, he offered an insight into the 21st century green design paradigm. An example of a successful green redevelopment project is the Atlanta Beltline. The Atlanta Beltline project is a comprehensive revitalization effort undertaken by the City of Atlanta and regarded as the country’s best smart growth project and one of the most wide-ranging urban redevelopments currently underway in the United States.  This sustainable project is providing a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit by re-using 22-miles of historic railroad corridors circling downtown and connecting 45 neighborhoods directly to each other.

Atlanta beltLine: rendering of Irwing promenade.



The fourth and last meeting of the ULI Washington’s Sustainability Beyond LEED series will be held at the George Washington University on June 21. The fourth session will introduce participants to the future trends of sustainable resources management and allocation, and will feature presentations by Bill Reed of Integrative Design Collaborative, Peter Garforth of Garforth International LLc  and Scott Sklar of The Stella Group.


Pictures downloaded from beltline.org.