Sustainable Cities

Humans build cities as an expression of our hunger for others.  Cities provide human security through a comprehensive mix of uses and opportunities for work and education, and in the diversity of people and built forms.  The sustainable city produces and markets food within its boundaries, allows options for living and working that don’t require fossil fuel use, collects energy and water, offers a glimpse of the past and the future, and connects to other places.  The identity of a city is read from the air and the street, in the facades of buildings and the faces of the people.  The abandoned canyons of most American downtowns after dark do not offer a model precedent, but a canvas for new ideas.
unabridged Architecture creates projects that contribute to city sustainability and resilience, including: streetscapes with durable green infrastructure, infill commercial projects that add mixed use and density to downtowns, restoration of special buildings, and civic and institutional structures that support economic development in downtown areas.
The spaces of life and work are increasingly defined by land use prescriptions and prohibitions.  Since the 1950’s these have created difficult transitions between the zones of work and life that require transportation to bridge.  We can turn compactness into an architectural and ecological advantage by promoting greater density in areas already served by infrastructure, and preserving greenfields.
The most sustainable building is the one that already exists.  It may require renovation to supply new functions, innovative technologies to serve the occupants more efficiently, but the shell of the structure has environmental as well as sentimental value.  An authentic commitment to historic preservation does not allow building in a false historic style; true architecture speaks of its own time and place, its forms consistent with the specifics of material and site rather than a jumble of favored ornaments.  Building in an old-fashioned way – with local knowledge, local materials, and in response to the particulars of site and climate – is the new paradigm for sustainability.
unabridged Architecture believes that every new structure should add to the capacity of the city in regenerative ways: to enable citizens to operate self-sufficiently, reduce external impacts, provide for occupant needs with abundance, and to assist recharge of larger systems (such as water and power).  We can convert our assets into urban living spaces, and reap the benefits of greater community, less maintenance, and better health.
Cities coalesce into polycentric forms, with work and home separated by miles and opportunities for learning, shopping, and play distant from either hub.  Access to many modes of transportation is critical to overcome the barrier of distance without adding to the burden of pollution.  Mixed land use reduces the need for transportation by allowing people to meet their daily needs within a ten-minute walk to restaurants, shops, laundry, sports, work, school, and library.  Alternative transport (bus, subway, bicycle) may connect us to wider offerings within the non-linear city, to events and destinations that are special and shared.
More critical than access to transportation is access to water, sewer, solid waste removal, and electricity.  These finite resources must be managed carefully to avoid inequity; the current strategy is to maintain a central source and distribute from a single point.  A total of 63% of electrical power generated at the average plant is used in the transmission.  With advances in clean technology, it will become much more efficient to generate a household’s own power needs on site through silent and dependable renewable sources; collect adequate rainwater to irrigate the garden, feed the animals, and flush the toilets; compost table waste and collect recyclables – in other words, to decentralize the provision of the public good and develop self-sufficiency instead of underground piping.
If people do not preserve nature in cities, the original inhabitants will be excised and we will change the places we live.  Restoring urban forests and street trees reduces the heat island effect of cities by producing more shade, lowering energy use, filtering stormwater, and transforming the very air we breathe. 
The monoculture of lawn grass has dealt the most destructive blow to biodiversity.  An unhappy feature of global suburbanization, the narrow mix of species allowed in the public domain requires significant maintenance, increased chemical use, and provides extremely limited benefit for wildlife.  Replacing lawns with food production plots becomes more desirable as fuel prices rise and food costs skyrocket.  Even in small numbers, keeping chickens in the backyard provide an immediate source for eggs, manure for the garden, and a disposal for food waste from the table – the perfect cycle.  There are growing methods to accommodate urban farming, even in vertical towers; many of these utilize the roof for allotments, or create green screens for climbing vegetables.
Areas of open space have the greatest benefit to the city when surrounded with dense human inhabitation.  The ideal park can serve great numbers of people with unprogrammed green area useful for active recreation, festivals, visual and performing arts, and passive pursuits, in addition to the environmental benefits.  If the park is large enough and connected to other open spaces to create corridors, it can help to restore wild nature to the city and contribute to the sustainability of all species, including our own.  
unabridged Architecture believes that developing sustainable cities requires collaboration in order to transform the public domain into green infrastructure, improve community resiliency, and conserve resources for the future.  Our mission is to recover urban forms, rewrite density, and facilitate localism.  Please contact us if we can help your community with proven expertise in sustainability planning, historic preservation, or developing new building programs and prototypes.