The promise and pitfalls of new sustainable communities


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The promise and pitfalls of new sustainable communities

  1. 1. Journal of Urban Design, Vol. 16. No. 1, 105–126, February 2011‘Living Green’: The Promise and Pitfalls of NewSustainable CommunitiesJENNIFER MAPES* & JENNIFER WOLCH***Department of Geography, State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY, USA;**College of Environmental Design, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USAABSTRACT Until 2008, there was no comprehensive system to measure the sustainabilityof new community developments. Many new community projects, however, have wonaccolades for their design. This study examines 29 of these projects, in light of efforts tocreate indicators to measure sustainability dimensions of new developments. The studyfinds that the marketing websites of award-winning projects tend to focus on features thatincrease community attractiveness to potential buyers, but do not incorporate a full rangeof attributes to enhance environmental and socio-economic sustainability. This suggeststhe importance of more systematic rating systems and highlights the complexities ofdesigning, building and evaluating communities.IntroductionIn 2007, the first homes in Quinn’s Crossing, outside of Seattle, were built as partof a showcase of innovative urban design in the region. Quinn’s Crossing ismarketed as an ‘eco-friendly’ community of 47 homes, built with preserved openspace and energy-saving construction techniques, “a community dedicated to theethos of putting the earth first” (Quinn’s Crossing Eco-Friendly, 2007). Less than ayear later, three homes were burned to the ground by protesters who left amessage in spray paint asserting that the buildings, by virtue of their size andconsumption of once-empty land, were not eco-friendly at all (Whitely, 2008).‘Green living’, it seems, is the in the eye of the beholder. In the past 10 to 15 years, a marketing niche has emerged for developers of newcommunities, who claim to construct homes and neighbourhoods that are differentfrom the sprawling subdivisions of the past. These projects are often marketed asenvironmentally- and community-friendly and celebrated with awards byhomebuilding associations, urban design teams, and (in some cases) environmen-tal organizations. They come in a wide variety of forms—from isolated and rural toconnected and urban; from small and affordable to over-sized and extravagant.The features heralded by those who market these communities are equally varied.Some are strongly environmental, while others focus on the social aspects of thedevelopment, tying ‘green living’ to a ‘sense of community’. For the consumer, thisCorrespondence Address: Jennifer Mapes, Department of Geography, State University ofNew York at Plattsburgh, 101 Broad Street, Plattsburgh NY 12901, USA. Email: jennifer.mapes@plattsburgh.edu1357-4809 Print/1469-9664 Online/11/010105-22 q 2011 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/13574809.2011.521012
  2. 2. 106 J. Mapes & J. Wolchmarketing blurs the distinction between the aesthetic pleasures of New Urbanismand conservation design, and the true contributions of these communities toward agreater good. When these projects were constructed, there were no uniform standards formeasuring their positive impacts—they were designed according to what thedeveloper believed would be both innovative and marketable as ‘green’,‘sustainable’ or ‘smart growth’. Some developers leave out what sustainabilitypromoters argue are among the essentials of new communities, while others addinnovative design features that enhance the overall health of the community andits region. Recently, there has been a push to provide uniform guidelines for these newcommunity projects. In 2007, the US Green Building Council, Congress for theNew Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council began a pilotprogramme for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighbour-hood Development (LEED-ND), a rating system of sustainability practices in newcommunities. Neighbourhoods must meet specific requirements to be rated, andthen earn points based on additional features offered. As of January 2010, newprojects could not yet be registered with LEED-ND, but a certification system wasset for public launch later that year. The American Society of Landscape Architects(ASLA) is also working on guidelines for development projects aimed atdecreasing their environmental impact. The pilot phase of their Sustainable SitesInitiative began in January 2010. Within the urban design and planning literature, relatively few recent studiesof new sustainable communities have been done that might provide guidance forsuch rating and assessment efforts. Forsyth (2005) looked at early alternatives totraditional suburbs, including The Woodlands (Texas), Irvine (California) andColumbia (Maryland), finding that a key challenge facing these communities wasthe fact that they required extensive negotiations with regional planning agencies,and long-term speculative investment that was often unattractive to investors.Zimmerman (2001) considered Prairie Crossing, a New Urbanist neighbourhoodnear Chicago that uses nature as an amenity and sports a variety of ‘green’features, nonetheless similar to a traditional suburb which does not address socialor economic sustainability (despite what others argue are successes inenvironmental education; see Thompson, 2004). The Orlando area’s Celebration,praised for urban design, has been criticized for its corporate control and lack ofsocial and economic diversity (Frantz & Collins, 2000; Ross, 2000). This paper considers what can be learned for future developments—and ratingsystems like LEED-ND—from a sample of recently completed developments thathave won awards for ‘sustainability’ or ‘smart growth’. A total of 29 developmentprojects, designed and constructed before the advent of any recognized ratingssystem, are analyzed. This analysis assesses sustainability features emphasized bythe developers in relationship to theoretical literature about sustainable urbandesign, and looks more closely at three specific communities. The analysis stronglysupports the importance of industry-wide sustainable development indicators,given the enormous variation in what communities offer as ‘sustainable’development. The assessment also provides insight into the complexities of thesecommunities, suggesting that while it is important to have a set of uniformsustainability standards, any definitive assessment of these communities necessarilylies in site-specific, contextual analysis and performance-based evaluations. Finally,more ambitious community sustainability efforts require additional political
  3. 3. ‘Living Green’ 107and economic incentives, especially in areas such as job provision, affordablehousing and transit.Sustainability in Concept and Urban Design PracticeSustainability is commonly defined, following the World Commission onEnvironment & Development (1987) as “meeting the needs of the present withoutcompromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Makinga transition to sustainability involves living within the Earth’s overall biocapacity,while simultaneously ensuring social equity, political inclusion, and economicand livelihood opportunities (Mazmanian & Kraft, 1999; Wheeler, 2004). Fordifferent regions of the world, it also implies reduced dependence on resourcesappropriated from distant regions and people (Wackernagel et al., 2006). The quest for sustainability can occur at many scales, from individual to global,and discussions range broadly from goals to process, from theory to practice(Mawhinney, 2002). Urban designers tend to focus on what Portney (2003) calls‘sustainability writ small’—sustainable cities, liveable communities or sustainablecommunities. Hempel (2000, p. 48) offers a widely accepted view of a sustainablecommunity as “one in which economic vitality, ecological integrity, civicdemocracy, and social well-being are linked in complementary fashion, therebyfostering a high quality of life and strong sense of reciprocal obligation among itsmembers”. While the pursuit of specific goals can lead to conflict betweenstakeholders with competing priorities (Campbell, 1996), the overarching goal of asustainable community is balance across environmental, social and economicrealms. Conceptual explorations and the design of prototypical sustainable commu-nities began with the late 1960s, with planned communities such as Sea Ranch(Lyndon & Alinder, 2004), Village Homes (Corbett & Corbett, 2000) and theWoodlands (Spirn, 1984), many of which had ecological features that wereimportant to their marketing and success. Communities such as Marin Solar Village(Van der Ryn & Calthorpe, 1986) were also proposed and gained widespreadattention (although never built). Academic interest in the potential of communitiesto become more sustainable expanded during the 1990s (Beatley & Manning, 1997;Lyle, 1996; Roseland et al., 1998; Van der Ryn & Cowan, 1995), case study books areincreasingly common (Benfield et al., 2001) as are websites (for example, SustainableCommunities Network: Eventually, efforts totranslate ideas about sustainable communities to practice emerged, and assessmentof performance via indicators systems, initially developed by community-basedgroups (such as Sustainable Seattle), were put to use by progressive municipalities(Swain et al., 2006). What can actually be achieved by communities that want to become part ofthe sustainability solution instead of the problem? Whether existing or newlyplanned, urban communities are embedded in larger metropolitan regions, andhave little control over regional social and economic dynamics. They are limited inthe types of policy tools they can apply, for example, cities cannot sensibly imposecarbon taxes due to the open nature of the urban system, and thus their effortsshould be judged within a framework of nested indicators that acknowledges thatdifferent sustainability challenges must be addressed at different spatial andgovernmental scales.
  4. 4. 108 J. Mapes & J. Wolch However, both existing and new communities can make a difference. Existingbuildings and infrastructure can be retrofitted, infill housing can be built, or urbanland can be remediated and reused. New communities can also offer alternativesto traditional low-density suburbs, utilizing urban design tools and land useplanning strategies. Any typology of such strategies would include smart growth,transit-oriented development, New Urbanism, eco-villages and conservationsubdivisions. Each has a somewhat different emphasis, but many share similarfeatures, are combined in actual developments (for example, transit-oriented eco-villages) and together fall under the more general rubric of ‘sustainablecommunities’. No single approach offers a panacea. Smart growth developments, forexample, are often the outcome of uneasy compromises between developers,environmentalists and local jurisdictions, each of which has different ideas of what‘sustainable’ means in practice. Typified by clustered housing, walkable, mixeduse town centres, New Urbanist or traditional neighbourhood design (TND)aesthetics, and open space set aside for habitat conservation, they are usually sitedat the urban fringe where they promote auto-dependence and habitatfragmentation as well as socio-economic segregation (Bunce, 2004; Filion, 2003;Gearin, 2004; Kruger, 2007). Some studies suggest the advantages of NewUrbanism with respect to environmental protection (for example, water manage-ment; see Berke et al., 2003), but such communities have yet to be subjected torigorous sustainability performance evaluations. Nonetheless, new communities will continue to be developed. They canbecome ‘sustainable’ communities if designed using high-performance buildings,green infrastructure, and alternative transportation systems that reduce energyuse and minimize pollution and waste; offer enhanced access to economic andbusiness opportunities; and provide a mix of housing and community facilitiesthat encourage social diversity and cohesion and the evolution of an inclusivecivic culture.Considering ‘Sustainable’ CommunitiesMany assessment systems have been developed for localities, based on indicatorslinked to environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainability. Most ofthese systems set goals and track performance following interventions in localpolicy, agency operations and municipal management (Bertone et al., 2006).However, new private developments built within a larger locality seldom subjectthemselves to the articulation of specific sustainability goals or indicator/perfor-mance assessment beyond those needed to obtain entitlements and permits. Forthose communities constructed before (or without) LEED-ND, assessment reliesupon the self-reporting of the developer or site visits by outside experts. There arefew incentives for the early and ongoing collection of data on sustainabilityindicators. Thus the characterization of projects as ‘innovative’ often involves a relianceupon awards and accolades given by urban design, planning or environmentalorganizations (such as the Natural Resources Defense Council), state, local orfederal governments (for example, the US Department of Energy), and/ordeveloper organizations (like the Urban Land Institute)—groups that have verydifferent views of what it means to be ‘sustainable’ or ’smart’. Moreover, to make
  5. 5. ‘Living Green’ 109their lists of ‘green’ communities and awards for sustainability, these organizationsutilize broad selection criteria and then rely on case study and developer-providedinformation to identify winners. For example, ULI has made 10 annual Awards forExcellence since 1979, on the basis of “leadership, contribution to the community,innovations, public/private partnership, environmental protection and enhance-ment, response to societal needs, and financial success”. But are new projects lauded for sustainability or smart growth actually‘sustainable communities’? At one level this question is impossible to answerdespite its fundamental significance because there is little empirical performanceassessment of new developments (for example, measurement of buildingefficiency or reduction in auto use). Even with the advent of LEED-ND, ratedcommunities will not be subject to rigorous monitoring. At another level, it is vital to understand perceptions of communitysustainability. How are developers using sustainability to market new commu-nities, and what aspects of community design are offered, or not offered, toconsumers as part of their ‘sustainability’ package? To address these more limited questions, the authors compiled a group ofaward-winning communities and compared their characteristics—as marketed topotential residents—to generally recognized sustainability goals and objectives.The projects selected for analysis received awards or recognition for their ‘smartgrowth’ or ‘sustainability’ concept and/or features within the past 15 years, a timeperiod during which these concepts were first recognized as important for newdevelopment. The selections are limited to those that have been completed, or arenearly complete, rather than those celebrated for their design concept only. Theyare also limited to projects that involved the construction of new buildings by anindividual developer or development group rather than changes made in a pre-existing municipality. It should be noted that some of the most innovative designs of small-scaleneighbourhoods have come from small-scale eco-villages that attempt to integratethe environmental, social and economic through the development of ‘intentionalcommunities’. While these communities can offer guidance and inspiration tolarger developers, the focus here is on projects larger than 100 acres. Such newcommunities are important in that their size contributes to their ability to disruptthe ecosystem (both human and environmental) where they are constructed, andthey attract a resident population that is more reflective of the general home-buying population than those who self-select to live in eco-villages. Ultimately, 29 award-winning projects meeting these criteria were identified,most appearing as recipients of awards from environmental, land use,construction, realty and architectural groups including the Urban Land Institute,US Environmental Protection Agency, National Association of Homebuilders, (a national on-line journal) (Figure 1).1 The broad range of organizations recognizing communities as leaders inurban design illustrates the dilemmas of those seeking to invest or reside indevelopment projects that are truly making strides toward sustainability goals.The practice of ‘greenwashing’, whether to purposely mislead consumers orthrough the over-simplification of the complex environmental effects of a good orservice, has been documented in a wide variety of corporate advertisingcampaigns, and this includes the real estate sector (Corbett, 2006; Greer & Bruno,1996; Tokar, 1997).
  6. 6. 110 J. Mapes & J. Wolch Figure 1. ‘Sustainable’ communities included in studyData CollectionThose marketing ‘green’ communities offer their own assessments of ‘sustainable’characteristics, and many offer no quantitative evidence of land preservation orrestoration, green building or affordable housing, for example. Nevertheless, theinformation provided by developers through marketing material available ontheir websites offers important insights into their urban design features, especiallythose that developers, implicitly or explicitly connect to smart growth or ‘greenliving’ (see Appendix A for website addresses). These data are used to considerhow sustainability concepts and principles translate (with varying degrees ofsuccess) to design practices on the ground. Data from marketing websites for the development projects were gatheredand analyzed using content analysis. A catalogue of key phrases was developed,
  7. 7. ‘Living Green’ 111with phrases selected to reflect the most common sustainability concepts used bythose marketing the communities. Only those phrases mentioned on more thanfive websites were included in the catalogue. Phrases typically matched ourcatalogue exactly, with some exceptions, such as those pertaining to concepts suchas ‘proximity to urban centre’, the wording of which varied somewhat. Similarmethods were used in analyzing the imagery used by the websites to gain a betterunderstanding of how developers were marketing their projects. Thus thequantitative data examined only whether a website mentioned a phrase or used acertain type of imagery, not the emphasis put on these characteristics. Clearly, not all community characteristics are advertised on developers’websites. For example, one project, Belle Creek, received an award from ULI for itsprovision of 51% affordable housing (Steuteville, 2006; ULI, 2002). However, in2006, its marketing website offered only a ‘mortgage calculator’, which suggestedan interest in providing affordable homes to residents. (The website has since beenreplaced by an intra-community ‘dot-org’ website, and therefore is not included inthis study.) This analysis, therefore, is presented with the caveat that developmentsmay offer more sustainability features than we have been able to document.Nevertheless, the characteristics that are actually marketed are important inunderstanding the nature of the places studied and especially how developersselectively incorporate aspects of sustainability into their image-making andmarketing strategies. Using these data, the paper describes the most commonly marketedsustainability features of these communities, situating the phrases and imagery inthree categories: neighbourhood, environmental and aesthetic. Aspects of marketingthat focused on more than one category, such as ‘open space’ (environmental/aes-thetic) were listed under both categories. Following this description, consideration isgiven to the extent to which the communities follow the spirit of sustainabilityguidelines, particularly those advanced by LEED-ND. By examining the marketing websites of development projects that have wonone or more award for ‘smart growth’ or ‘sustainability’, the paper researches abroad range of academic assessments of the characteristics of this type ofdevelopment. Insights are also offered into what features developers believe willsell to those looking to ‘live green’. Together, the findings portray the ‘look andfeel’ of a sample of today’s award-winning communities, and reveal thediscontinuities between how they are marketed and the imperatives of sustainableurban design. Consideration is then given to lessons learned from amenitiesoffered in specific individual communities, and the paper concludes by offeringan assessment of what these already-built communities can offer to under-standings or assessing new community development projects.Selling ‘Sustainable’ in Award-winning CommunitiesThere are three common threads found in marketing websites for thesecommunities, in varying degrees (Figure 2). A focus on neighbourhood, wheredesign characteristics are aimed at building a stronger sense of community andsense of place; environment, including ‘green building’ and ‘green space’; andaesthetic, in which the community’s appearance is touted by developers. Websitesoften either explicitly mentioned New Urbanism or used phrases associated withthis urban design movement such as ‘mixed use’ and ‘pedestrian-friendly’. Thisfocus, combined with a more traditional family-friendly marketing angle resulted
  8. 8. 112 J. Mapes & J. Wolch Figure 2. Marketing sustainabilityin many similar images across the websites examined. The word ‘sustainable’ wasused infrequently and typically referred specifically to environmental attributes,rather than to a broader understanding of connections to social equity andeconomic vitality. The promoted characteristics of most developments indicatedthe popularity of factors that contribute both to the community’s ‘sense ofcommunity’ or ‘greenness’, but could at the same time be marketed as making theproject a more physically attractive place to live.Focus on NeighbourhoodThe most common focus of website marketing for these communities is the ideathat developers are providing a neighbourhood sense of place or sense ofcommunity through physical design characteristics. The communities are sold asopposing what many see as typical suburban design—homogenous homes spacedfar from each other separated by large lawns, and separated from shopping,schools, services and other places where residents might interact with neighbours.Instead, they are shown as places where neighbours can interact, not just acrossfront lawns, but while shopping, in parks or on sidewalks.
  9. 9. ‘Living Green’ 113 Most communities include the phrase or concept of ‘mixed use’ on theirwebsites. In particular, developers focus on the idea of having shopping andrestaurants within walking distance of residents’ homes. The concept of a ‘vibrantcommunity’ is also a phrase that focuses on the importance of neighbourhoodactivities. A third of the projects studied include images of outdoor cafes in theirwebsites, while others show women carrying brand-name shopping bags orcouples drinking wine at indoor restaurants. Most communities feature a towncentre of stores, restaurants and some office space. The amount of space dedicatedto this purpose varies from one or two stores to dozens, with office space aboveretail. In some communities, the only jobs offered are in cafes or local schools,while in Stapleton, outside Denver, an advertisement offers that friends will sufferfrom ‘office envy’ of those who live in the community and bike to work. Less common were communities offering proximity to a larger urban centre.While many of the communities examined were within municipal boundaries oflarge cities, they often lacked connectivity that would allow the ‘live-work-play’concept to extend to the existing city. Exceptions tended to be redevelopmentprojects like Atlantic Station, which focused on residents’ ability to go ‘car-free’,not just within the community, but through pedestrian and public transitconnections to jobs and amenities in downtown Atlanta. ‘Sense of community’ is another common phrase, which is aimed atdescribing the interactions promoted by the design of the communities. Lesscommon is ‘diversity’, which is used to describe primarily economic, rather thanracial, diversity as an attractive characteristic of the community. In addition tomixed use, ‘traditional neighbourhood design’ (TND), ‘pedestrian friendly’ and‘local schools’ also indicate a focus on neighbourhood. For Baldwin Park, inOrlando, Florida, the concept of TND is used to describe the community’s widesidewalks and green common areas, where neighbours can interact with eachother. In the imagery supporting the neighbourhood concept, there is a particularfocus on children: imagery on the websites most commonly pictured childrenplaying outside, on bicycles, in the community pool or park. Adults are shownwalking on sidewalks with strollers or dogs. The proximity of houses is shownthrough photos of several homes clustered together, with adults outside relaxingon lawns and porches. Rather than focusing on a decrease in automobile use, many communitiesconnected the phrase ‘pedestrian-friendly’ to a sense of community amongresidents. In Hidden Springs (outside of Boise, Idaho), for example, residents wereencouraged to interact at a neighbourhood mercantile that also served as a cafe, ´library and central post office. In larger communities, leisurely interaction is thefocus of neighbourhood shops, restaurants and parks. These settings portray anattractive alternative to residents seeking a home outside of the city, in a smalltown atmosphere. The neighbourhood concept rarely focuses on reduced auto-dependenceeven if this was an (un)intended consequence of this type of design. In MapleLawn, outside the DC beltway in Maryland, mixed-use is described on thedeveloper’s website as “a unique mix of boutique shops and high qualityrestaurants”. While Maple Lawn does offer medical services and other officespace, its retail focus is higher-end, with no practical stores named among itsofferings. The focus on cafes and wine bars over grocery stores and pharmacies iscommon. More focus is placed on marketing the new town centres as weekendgathering spots than as places for daily chores and interactions with neighbours.
  10. 10. 114 J. Mapes & J. WolchFocus on EnvironmentThe second most common focus of the development projects that were analyzed ison environmentally-friendly design. It is expressed through phrases such as ‘openspace’ and ‘green building’ and images of forest, wetlands and prairie. In designterms, these communities sought to appeal to residents through constructionstandards and the preservation of a portion of the land being developed. Lesscommon is the promotion of sustainability plans or proximity to public transit oremployment centres. The phrase ‘open space’ was one of the most frequently used in the projectsanalyzed, with approximately three-quarters of the communities noting that theyhad preserved open space, although the quantity of this land, and the quality of itspreservation, varied greatly by development. Dewees Island, in South Carolina,preserved 98% of its open space, which includes beaches, wetlands and somecoastal forest. Residents are required to build around all existing trees. For mostcommunities, however, open space means clustering homes on a portion of landand leaving a portion at the edge of the community undeveloped. Moredevelopers market this open space as a neighbourhood attribute than as anenvironmental attribute. We found that images of children playing in or adultsusing open space for walking or biking for leisure were more common than ofopen space free of human presence. A less common marketing focus was the phrase ‘green building’. The mostcommon type of green building technique mentioned on community websites wasEnergy Star or other certification that measured the energy efficiency ofconstruction. This type of design both reduces the use of resources through energyconsumption, but also cuts costs for the homeowner. Northwest Crossing in Bend,Oregon, describes homes as being Earth Advantage Certified, a programme thatconsiders “energy efficiency, recycling, building materials, landscaping, waterand indoor air quality”. Glenwood Park, outside of Atlanta, Georgia, notesEarthCraft housing, a certification system created by the Greater Atlanta HomeBuilders Association (Schoolcraft, 2003). Other communities promote their homesas energy-efficient or as using recycled building materials, but do not offer anyspecific certification. A few projects include a small number of LEED-certifiedbuildings. Prairie Crossing features a wind-powered farm, while Civano inTucson, Arizona, stands out as community powered in part by solar energy. Potentially encompassing all environmentally-friendly features is the phrase‘green living’, which has been applied to a wide variety of communities. Its use isquite telling of the broad variety of communities being marketed as sustainable.‘Green’, of course, can mean anything from a green golf course to local farmersmarkets to solar power. For Glenwood Park, outside of Atlanta, Georgia, ‘a newshade of green’ refers to its energy-efficient construction, street tree plantings andrecycling of materials removed from the site. Issaquah Highlands, outside ofSeattle, Washington, offers a long list on its ‘commitment to living green’,including preserved open space, wetland-friendly construction practices andnatural stormwater filters. Outside of Orlando, Florida, Harmony’s websitedescribes a wide variety of ‘green’ features, including extensive environmentaleducation programming and water-efficient landscaping. ‘Living green’ in thecommunities studied is equally indicative of enjoying the trails of a nearbypreserved forest, wetland or prairie as it is indicative of reduced resourceconsumption.
  11. 11. ‘Living Green’ 115Focus on AestheticsThe third most common focus of marketing for the communities is on theappearance or aesthetics of these communities. In some instances, developers seekto balance aesthetic attractions with those aimed at the environmentally- orsocially-conscious. However, in others the focus is clearly on the appearance ofthe community with little or no connection to sustainability features. Giventhat the study examined a visual media aimed at consumers—the communities’websites— this is not necessarily surprising. What is telling, however, is theextent to which communities focused on aesthetic qualities in a manner thatoverwhelms any contributions toward social, economic or environmentalsustainability. Advertising the appearance of residential architecture is an important part ofboth the words and imagery of the community websites studied. It is the secondmost common image in community websites and is mentioned in nearly half ofthe web sites. The colourful homes of Daybreak, south of Salt Lake City, arefeatured prominently on its website, which offers homes modelled after those indowntown Salt Lake: “Large front porches. Diverse styles. Vibrant colours.Abundant grace and charm”. Homes in Prairie Crossing are described as‘Midwestern vernacular’, and include those constructed in a Frank Lloyd Wrightstyle. Many developments link ‘sense of community’ and homes of matchingcolours that vary in appearance (if not in price). The discourse of ‘open space’ on many websites is similar to the promotion of1950s suburbia—proximity to urban amenities in a rural locale. Like manycommunities, Ladera Ranch, in Orange County, California, opens its website with aphoto taken out the window of one of its homes toward surrounding hillsides.Luxury golf courses and manicured gardens are less subtle expressions of thedesire to push the ‘green’ in ‘green living’ toward an aesthetic, rather thanenvironmental, marketing angle. DC Ranch in Arizona, for example, uses itswebsite to invite new residents to experience “an exclusive desert lifestyle inthe beautiful golf course community of DC Ranch” (DC Ranch, 2007), whileMediterra, outside of Naples, Florida, offers “homes from the $700,000s to $7million” against a backdrop of a large fountain and red-flowered gardens (BonitaBay Properties, 2004). Overall, the highly uneven attention by those marketing these communitiesto more practical characteristics associated with achieving sustainabilityillustrates the importance of creating a system of indicators that can educateconsumers about the nature of a project’s sustainability goals. For example, theLEED-ND rating system rewards communities that decrease their impact onenvironmental resources, integrate a diverse group of neighbours, and providesconnections to regional employment, residential and recreational centres. Theexamination here of communities that have already been constructed indicates afocus on a select few of these characteristics. Developers in search of a higherLEED-ND rating would be encouraged by this system to broaden their definitionof environmental, social and economic sustainability. Assuming that consumersare interested in such ratings, developers would be pressed to move beyondaesthetic and superficially-green urban design to add features that would have agreater impact on long-term sustainability.
  12. 12. 116 J. Mapes & J. WolchMoving Toward a ‘Darker Green’: Advances and Challenges in NewCommunitiesThe examination of 29 communities illustrates the broad range in whatdevelopers market as sustainable (or ‘green’) features of their projects. Closerinspection reveals many ‘shades of green’ ambitions,2 in terms of whether goalsand outcomes are ‘light’ or ‘dark’ green, as well as varying spatial contexts. Thisstudy examines three communities in some depth, looking beyond marketingwebsites to local scholarly articles, media reports and the authors’ own series ofsite visits in the field. Hidden Springs, outside Boise, Idaho, illustrates agreenfield community which aims to be a green suburb, rather than an urbanneighbourhood. Harmony, another greenfield project outside of Orlando,Florida, focuses on a variety of scales and types of sustainability. Stapleton, inDenver, Colorado, is a brownfield redevelopment project in an urban area thatadvertises its own sustainability plan. These vignettes reveal how thesecommunities attempted to put sustainability into practice, and the challengesthey faced in doing so. They also suggest some positive aspects that may not beapparent from any quantitative rating system.Hidden SpringsThe road to Hidden Springs winds past conventional sprawling subdivisions atBoise, Idaho’s edge. It runs up a series of hills to the relatively undevelopedDry Creek Valley 10 miles from the city centre. Hidden Springs was developedby Frank Martin, who also developed another conservation community, PrairieCrossing in Grayslake, Illinois. At build-out, Hidden Springs will include 1135homes on 1844 acres. The community’s plan focuses on two main elements:community and environment. The project’s website makes clear an emphasison sustainability. Although it does not use this particular phrase, it cites theUrban Land Institute’s development guidelines, offers tips for ‘going green’,notes its ‘conservation legacy’ and construction of a LEED-certified modelhome. Like many communities that have won awards for sustainable design,Hidden Springs’ marketing centres on its unique qualities and focus oncommunity. Its marketing booklet describes the community as ‘The Antidote toAnywhere, USA’. Life beyond the single-family home in Hidden Springs iscentred on The Mercantile, a two-storey brick building at the town’s entrance that ´serves as a combination cafe-convenience store-library-post office (Figure 3).Promotional literature for the community centres around The Mercantile as agathering place for residents, noting that there is no home delivery of mail; allresidents must come to The Mercantile to pick up their mail, promoting increasedsocial interaction. Next to The Mercantile is a pre-school and fire station, and a fewblocks away is a K-9 charter school and pool/clubhouse. A bit further down theroad is a community barn, built next to an historic barn that was part of the land’soriginal potato farm. A Hidden Springs real estate agent’s sales pitch focuses oncommunity togetherness; a concert series in the park, the high test scores of thecharter school and Hidden Springs’ employment of an event co-ordinator toschedule casino nights. Another part of the Hidden Springs brochure describes its open spacepreservation, noting an ‘800-acre playground’ where residents can hike, mountain
  13. 13. ‘Living Green’ 117 Figure 4. The densely packed homes (and lawns) of Hidden Springs are contrasted with the surrounding open spaceFigure 3. The Mercantile in Hidden Springsprovides a gathering point for residents, with ´the community’s cafe, convenience store, library and post officebike and ride horses (Figure 4). The land is a conservation easement, maintainedthrough a 0.25% transfer fee on lot purchases. Hidden Springs has a waste waterreclamation system that uses treated water collected through a central sewersystem to irrigate crops and grass in parks. The community offers residents theopportunity to participate in a community-supported farm and purchase aproduce share each growing season. Homes in the sixth phase of the community’sbuild-out are being built to Energy Star programme standards, according to thedevelopment’s real estate office (2008). The dilemma of new projects promoting themselves as sustainable isexemplified by the contradictions of Hidden Springs. The community is beingbuilt on former open space and farmland, and yet is being marketed to those whoappreciate the same open space. It promotes a sense of community, yet residentsmust travel at least 20 minutes to get to their jobs. Although the community ismarketed as passing ‘the milk test’ by offering a store that sells convenience itemswithin walking distance (Hidden Springs promotional literature, 2003) for manyyears it offered no other commercial services. A small mixed-use centre called TheMarketplace recently opened, but residents were without additional services foreight years. The closest shopping centres are commercial strips and big-box storeson Boise’s fringe: Wal-Mart is about 15 minutes from Hidden Springs, whiledowntown Boise is about 30 minutes away. Celebrated as Best Example of Smart Growth by the National Association ofHome Builders in 2000, Hidden Springs was given a ‘thumbs down’ by the SierraClub in 2001. The National Association of Home Builders, in conjunction withProfessional Builder magazine, focused on the development’s contributions to openspace preservation and community-building efforts. The Sierra Club had adifferent view of the project, and argued that Hidden Springs contributes to
  14. 14. 118 J. Mapes & J. Wolchsprawl in the Boise area, both due to its size and location beyond currentdevelopment (Soufrant & O’Toole, 2001). Despite Hidden Springs’ many sustainability related aspects, it is weigheddown by its size and location. The Boise metropolitan area grew by 46% between1990 and 2000, and was named by a Seattle-based environmental think tank as themost sprawling city in the Northwest (Sightline Institute, 2000). Sustainabilityguidelines suggest that developments in fast-growing areas should be integratedwith the existing city through brownfield construction or public transit; HiddenSprings is neither. While it is important to recognize that it is possible to makestrides in sustainability within greenfield developments, these communities needto be more than just residential enclaves of the upper-middle and middle class. Tomeet sustainability goals, they should contribute to socio-economic sustainabilityby offering affordable housing and employment for a diverse segment of theregion’s population. The community also needs to move beyond neighbourhood-level practices to make regional connections and encourage more sustainableindividual choices.HarmonyHarmony, a conservation community 37 miles from Orlando, Florida, begins toaddress some of these issues, as well as incorporating many environmental andcommunity features, but also retains some of the challenges of Hidden Springs.Harmony is an 11 000-acre development in central Florida focused on promotingconnections between humans, animals and the environment. Plans for thecommunity, which has been under construction since 2001, include 7200 homesand a 30-acre mixed-use town centre. Harmony’s homes are built around an 18-hole golf course and border on more than 7000 acres of preserved open spaceincluding two natural lakes (Wolch, 2003). The community provides numerousenvironmental and community-oriented features that promote sustainability.Many of these features, including New Urbanist-style design and the preservationof open space, are similar to Hidden Springs. In terms of socio-economicsustainability, however, Harmony makes additional contributions to promoteregional well-being. It also places greater emphasis on decisions made at theindividual level than most other communities that were analyzed. The primary focus of Harmony’s sustainability efforts is environmental. Thecommunity, which has preserved 70% of its land as open space, employs a full-time conservation manager, and is home to a non-profit institute focused onconservation and society-animal relations. Harmony’s plans preserve the site’sregional ecological function in terms of watershed and habitat protection. Homesin Harmony are all built to Energy Star standards, which reduces energyconsumption by up to 30%. Animal-friendly features include dog parks, windowsdesigned to prevent bird collisions, and community covenants and restrictionsaimed at protecting both companion animals and wildlife. Many community-building efforts are also focused on animals (Figure 5). Inaddition to providing opportunities for interaction through trails and dog parks,Harmony offers a number of volunteer and educational programmes centred onhuman-animal relations and conservation. Community infrastructure includes aK-8 and regional high school, with trails connecting the schools to residentialareas, and a town centre with a restaurant and recreation centre, and plannedshopping and employment opportunities.
  15. 15. ‘Living Green’ 119 Unlike most other communities recognized for their sustainability efforts,Harmony seeks to diversify its social character and enhance economic viability. Inaddition to the typical ‘mix’ of uses that includes residential, commercial andoffice space, Harmony plans to attract light industrial uses, and bring 6000 jobs tothe area. A mix of residential incomes is built into the urban residential design,and by law the community sets aside 20% of homes as affordable housing. However, although Harmony’s sustainability efforts provide greater breadththan other communities, it still falls short in some areas. Harmony’s small job baseand lack of transit service all mean that residents are auto-dependent andcommute long distances to work, fuelling the charge that the communitypromotes additional sprawl in greater Orlando. Like Hidden Springs, plannedcommercial development is behind schedule, forcing residents to drive beyondthe community for shopping and services until local stores are built. Whilemaking strides in terms of resident awareness of how their everyday practicesrelate to sustainability, some residents find community covenants and restrictionstoo restrictive (Seymour & Wolch, 2009). In addition, public green space oftenincludes well-manicured lawns and golf courses, rather than native landscaping(Figure 6). The experience of Harmony’s residents suggests the challenges ofimplementing sustainability features but it will take decades to fairly judge itssuccesses and failures. Will its employees live in the community? Will affordablehousing provisions attract a greater diversity of residents? Will affordable housingstay that way? Will retail opportunities reduce trips to outside grocery stores andrestaurants? Will coexistence values upon which the community is based, surviveas residents come and go? In the meantime, the goals and strategies of Harmony—to achieve both environmental and socio-economic sustainability—can serve as amodel for other new developments.StapletonAnother community that offers sustainable features is Stapleton, a brownfielddevelopment in Denver, Colorado. The community is the result of redevelopmentof the original international airport in Denver (Figure 7). It will have 2,700residential units on 4,700 acres. Stapleton includes a mix of land uses, including a Figure 6. Despite calls for environmentally-Figure 5. Animal-centred events are common in friendly design, most lawns in Harmony are non- Harmony native grasses
  16. 16. 120 J. Mapes & J. Wolchvariety of home types, stores, services, educational facilities, light industry, andparks. The community was named ‘Model of Sustainability’ by the United NationsWorld Conference on Sustainable Development in 2002, and has receivednumerous other accolades for its contributions to sustainability and smart growth.Stapleton’s sustainability plan highlights 11 areas: education, land use design,open space, lighting, residential buildings, commercial buildings, recycling,transportation, energy use, water management and healthy living. Six million tons of concrete runways were recycled during the project andlarger buildings were rehabilitated for the new neighbourhood. Stapleton hasinitiated a policy of building only Energy Star homes and offers a farmer’s market,urban farm and a 1116-acre park system. Numerous bus lines and bicycle routesrun throughout Stapleton to downtown Denver (Stapleton sustainabilityprograms, 2008). Equally important to sustainability, Stapleton also serves as an employmentbase, allowing residents to live and work in the same neighbourhood. It includesschools, a police training academy, manufacturing and an airline workers trainingfacility. Stapleton offers 10 million square feet of office space and 3 million squarefeet of retail space (Stapleton statistics, 2008). As a state Enterprise Zone, Stapletonattracts businesses by offering eight different possibilities for tax credits (City ofDenver Urban Enterprise Zone, 2009). The project includes affordable housing,community events and a town centre with a grocery store, pharmacy andrestaurants. Despite its successes and innovations, Stapleton has faced many of the samedilemmas as the other communities. Even with its commitment to affordablehousing aimed at families and minorities, its homes have not sold quickly to thesedemographic segments. In 2005, Denver turned over control of Roslyn Court, an80-unit affordable housing complex, to Stapleton’s developer after a localaffordable housing firm had defaulted on $4.7 million in loans from the city(Washington, 2005) after having trouble selling units, marketed toward singlemothers and people of colour, but more expensive and smaller than thoseavailable at other Denver redevelopment projects (Tatum, 2004). Stapleton also faced financial problems unique to its situation as a brownfielddevelopment funded by the city of Denver. Residential development does notprovide enough municipal revenue to pay for infrastructure costs, so the city hadto rely on bonds that would be repaid through sales tax. While some tax revenuescome from commercial activities within the community, others flow in from big-box projects at Stapleton’s edge (Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and a Home Depot; seeFigure 8), as well as a more distant regional mall that includes a Target Superstoreand a movie theatre. Residents complained that the construction of these stores tofund a ‘sustainable’ neighbourhood development was counter-intuitive,especially since there is insufficient retail within their neighbourhood. Developersalso had trouble attracting office tenants, thus far less office space had been builtthan planned due to low demand (Pristin, 2005). The experience of Stapleton suggests that roadblocks exist for more ambitiousaward-winning communities. Financing can be challenging and reaching targetaudiences—whether they are residents in need of affordable housing oremployers seeking environmentally-friendly office space—can be difficult,especially if costs are higher than neighbouring communities.
  17. 17. ‘Living Green’ 121Figure 7. The airport tower still stands in Figure 8. Quebec Square, a traditional big-boxStapleton, which once served as Denver’s airport development complete with sprawling parkingand is now home to a diverse mix of home types lots, is part of Stapleton The challenges illustrated by these communities suggest that it is importantto consider more than just the design of a community, but also the outcomes of thisdesign and its regional context. They also highlight how sustainability goals donot necessarily result in sustainability outcomes. Conversely, a qualitativeexamination of these communities finds several design features that may not berecognizable through a more quantitative assessment. For example, Stapleton’ssustainability plan and Harmony’s institute focused on human-animal interactionhighlight the importance of creating a cohesive community vision that connectsurban design to a shift in residents’/consumers’ point of view.Learning from Awarding-winning New CommunitiesOverall, the development projects investigated here reveal the importance ofhaving both breadth and depth in sustainable design. While new sustainablecommunities in theory include green buildings and infrastructure, alternativetransportation systems, and a variety of business opportunities, as well as supportsocial diversity and a vibrant civic culture, on the ground development goals andoutcomes are often more limited. An examination of marketing websites ofcommunities shows a focus on the appearance of a ‘sense of community’ overconcerns about environmental health, social equity or economic vitality. A closerlook at three of these communities illustrates the challenges of moving fromsustainability goals to outcomes on the ground. This paper argues that a successful move toward sustainability includes bothbreadth and depth of both goals and outcomes. Breadth requires attention towardmultiple aspects of environmental sustainability as well as social equity andeconomic vitality. Depth requires goals and outcomes that move beyondsuperficial attention to marketable traits (what some have termed ‘light green’), toa ‘darker green’ that can be empirically monitored and measured withsustainability indicators long after the development is built out. In theory, communities that market themselves as broadly sustainable aim toaffect not only the neighbourhood scale, but the individual and regional levels aswell. Most projects in this study advertise urban design that supportssustainability at the neighbourhood level, seldom acknowledging the potentialimpacts of community characteristics on individual decision-making or regionaloutcomes. It was rare, for example, for developers to focus on encouragingresidents to incorporate native landscaping or to advertise any interactions with
  18. 18. 122 J. Mapes & J. Wolchlarger municipalities to co-ordinate regional transportation alternatives. It istherefore important for guidelines such as LEED-ND to provide for nestedindicators that monitor and evaluate sustainability at multiple scales. Successful interventions in urban design require recognition of the inherentconnections between environmental, economic and social realms. The communitiesstudied here marketed primarily environmental features such as green space, andavoided economic or social aspects of community building, such as incorporatingdiverse local employment opportunities or insuring that price points for housingallows low- as well as high-income households to reside in the community. Clearly,there were insufficient economic incentives or political requirements in place toencourage developers to expand the depth of their community designs, especiallyas they pertained to social and economic sustainability. Both depth and breadth are measured to an extent by the LEED-ND ratingsystem (Figure 9). Communities that focus on only aesthetically-pleasing,neighbourhood-level sustainability features would likely rate poorly under thissystem, while those that offer far-reaching sustainability features at a variety ofscales would rate highly. Golf courses and flower gardens would not earn pointsunder this system, while communities that offer habitat preservation andconnections to public transit would earn credit for their ecological and municipalconnectivity. What LEED-ND does not measure are factors beyond urban design, such asthe timing of development and availability of planned sustainability-enhancingcommunity infrastructure. When the authors visited Prairie Crossing in 2006, forexample, the community had existed for several years without its mixed usecentre, and the closest shopping opportunities were several miles away. This Figure 9. Selected LEED-ND guidelines
  19. 19. ‘Living Green’ 123raised the question of the extent to which phased construction affects individualdecisions; when planned facilities take years to arrive, what looks sustainable onplan may be far less so because residents increase their vehicle miles travelled.LEED-ND is also applied uniformly to 1-acre projects or 10 000-acre projects, anddevelopers can choose to select only a portion of their project to be assessed, toallow newer phases of older projects to be certified. Nevertheless, this is a majorloophole. For example, mixed use development or public transit access maybenefit houses close by, but what about residents several miles away in a largeproject who must drive? Ensuring that 10% of the housing stock is affordable is agood start, but if only a portion of the project falls under this criterion, theaffordability of the overall community could be low. Based on the research here, itis important to distinguish between projects of different sizes and ambitions, aswell as to examine the project as a whole. Will a rating system motivate developers to build darker green communities?Not necessarily. Terramor, a neighbourhood in the Ladera Ranch community,offered homes with a variety of sustainability features. Yet only 28% of thoseinquiring about Terramor were interested in its environmental benefits, resultingin a marketing scheme that did not focus on the sustainable aspects of thedevelopment (Nguyen, 2003). Thus for some communities, proving theirgreenness may not be top priority. Nonetheless, green consumerism is increasingly popular in mainstreamAmerican culture. LEED-ND and similar systems for rating sustainability offer amethod of accounting for sustainability claims prior to construction. They are thusan important step in bridging theory and practice. While such ratings are a vitalmethod in gauging communities, they should not be the final word on acommunity’s ‘success’ or ‘failure’. Both academics and consumers interested insustainability should keep close tabs on individual communities and their abilityto not just mitigate their social and environmental impact, but to prove that newcommunities can contribute to neighbouring people and regions, and tolandscapes both distant and near.AcknowledgementsSupport from the National Geographic Society’s Committee on Research andExploration is gratefully acknowledged. The authors also appreciate commentsoffered by anonymous referees and Michael Dear and Greg Hise on an earlierversion of this paper. The authors alone are responsible for any errors oromissions.Notes1. Finding these communities proved challenging, as there is no one term the communities use to describe themselves. Through marketing websites, some communities describe their project as a ‘conservation community’, others use the phrase ‘New Urbanist’ to highlight neighbourhood design features, and some make no mention of sustainability or smart growth. Due to the lack of a common agreement on what makes a community a ‘sustainable’ one, it is likely that the communities described in this paper serve only as a representation of many other similar communities constructed in the United States.2. The shades of green concept first appeared in the description of consumers’ commitment to environmentally-friendly purchases (Mintel, 1991). The concept has since broadened to include a wide variety of decisions that may affect the environment, including political viewpoints (Torgerson, 1999), and businesses’ commitment to sustainable policies (Gunningham et al., 2003).
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  22. 22. 126 J. Mapes & J. WolchAppendixCommunity websitesAmelia Park http://www.hometownneighborhoods.comAtlantic Station http://www.atlanticstation.comBaldwin Park http://www.baldwinparkfl.comBonita Bay http://www.bonitabay.comCivano Creek Center http://www.coffeecreekcenter.comDaybreak http://www.daybreakutah.comDC Ranch http://www.dcranch.comDel Sur http://www.delsurliving.comDewees Island Village http://www.fairviewvillage.comGlenwood Park http://www.glenwoodpark.comHaile Plantation http://www.haileguide.comHarmony http://www.harmonyfl.comHidden Springs http://www.hiddensprings.comI’On Village http://www.ionvillage.comIssaquah Highlands http://www.issaquahhighlands.comLadera Ranch http://www.laderaranch.comLowry Neighborhood http://www.lowry.orgMaple Lawn http://www.maplelawnmd.comMediterra http://www.mediterranaples.comNorthwest Crossing http://www.northwestcrossing.comOrenco Station Ranch DuValle Crossing http://www.prairiecrossing.comStapleton http://www.stapletondenver.comSummerlin http://www.summerlin.comThe Pinehills
  23. 23. Copyright of Journal of Urban Design is the property of Routledge and its content may not be copied or emailedto multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holders express written permission. However,users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.