Core to our philosophy at ZGF is designing spaces that better the experience of its inhabitants and the planet. Long before LEED was part of the lexicon, we’ve been designing spaces that push the boundaries of sustainable performance.
But one building or smart city alone cannot solve our current crisis. Our planet is on its way to running out of resources. Striving to be sustainable in isolated approaches is no longer enough. As urban designers, architects and planners our task is to look beyond strategies that reduce impact – efficient systems, healthier materials, equitably sourced products – and pursue solutions that create closed-loop value in our neighborhoods and cities. Closed-loop or cyclical systems that capture value created at a district scale and that create places adapted to community aspirations are the next step in moving urban design forward into the realm of regenerative urbanism.
Regenerative urbanism creates a balance where buildings, their occupants and the surrounding systems, both natural and man-made, work together to create resources rather than deplete them. Research shows that the integration of regenerative elements can yield greater returns over time. This approach uses dynamic governance systems to monitor and share the costs and benefits of urban life. It allows for multiple objectives to be achieved, from managing water and reusing waste biproducts to optimizing renewable resources across compact communities in new ways.
Thinking regeneratively requires:
- A shift in thinking, from treating cities and urban places as the sum of their isolated parts to cities as living systems that are best understood through the interconnections between its parts.
- A shift in value, from approaching sustainability as solely an environmental issue to one that anchors new economies, creates better places, and underpins growth in social equity.
- A shift in goals, from incremental impact reduction and elimination goals, to audacious regenerative goals that require working at the upper limits of creative potential.
- A shift in programming, from focusing on isolated projects to establishing integrated systems. Regenerative strategies require the synthesis and integration of existing resources in new ways rather than inventing new tools and technologies.
Our work in Kashiwa-no-ha Smart City in Japan has embraced many of the regenerative city principals, including governance and resource sharing. Three primary goals drive the city’s approach: 1) to create a city that coexists with nature, 2) to make a city that supports the health and longevity of its residents, and 3) to develop a city that fosters the creation of new industry.
We have also engaged the City of San Francisco on a regenerative approach to the city’s Central SOMA neighborhood. As the neighborhood undergoes major rezoning to accommodate additional jobs, housing and public amenities, the district is well-positioned to incorporate elements of a regenerative neighborhood system. A restorative city assessment identified “four big moves” affecting water, energy, infrastructure, and waste to advance the city toward regenerative performance. An accompanying cost-benefit analysis determined that an incremental investment in development using restorative principles could double public benefits in the district for the City.
In an uncertain future, with rapidly depleting resources and even faster evolution of technology, a city designed and managed under the principles of regenerative urbanism creates tangible value for everyone. It can be a catalyst to occupant health and happiness, an effective foil for climate change, and can lower operating and real estate costs. This holistic approach represents a win at every level of the urban environment and strengthens cities and citizen wealth in preparation for future growth and crises alike.