Walking the path to smart growth and sustainable design for communities

Urban designer and author Jeff Speck is one of an exciting line-up of international guest speakers at the Green Building Convention, from 26 to 28 July 2016, at Sandton Convention Centre.

Urban designer and author Jeff Speck is one of an exciting line-up of international guest speakers at the Green Building Convention, from 26 to 28 July 2016, at Sandton Convention Centre.

“Climate change isn’t just a disaster, it is also our best chance to demand and build a better world.” This quote from Naomi Klein, activist and author of the New York Times bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, has inspired the theme for this year’s Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) convention to be held in Johannesburg this July.

Inspiring professionals in the built environment to ‘Build a better world NOW’, the convention aims to stimulate awareness, ambition and action to design, build and operate better buildings – and to make this change swiftly.

Jeff Speck, one of an exciting line-up of internationally recognised sustainability leaders headlining the conference, presents a compelling case for radical design shifts so that cities, their citizens and their natural environments can thrive.

Speck believes it is time for our cities to take a step in a different direction.

An urban designer and author who advocates internationally for smart growth and sustainable design, Speck was the former director of design at the US National Endowment for the Arts. As the overseer of the Mayor’s Institute on City Design, he has helped many American mayors overcome pressing city planning challenges. And as creator of the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, he has guided state governors in their fight against suburban sprawl.

Speaking on TEDCity2.0 from New York on the walkable city, Speck asks how we solve the problem of suburban sprawl and shows how we can free ourselves from dependence on the car, which he calls “a gas-belching, time-wasting, life-threatening prosthetic device”, by making our cities more walkable and more pleasant for more people: a measure simply termed walkability.

Speck cites three key benefits of walkability: economic, health and environmental:

  • Speck says the best economic strategy a city can have is no longer the old method of attracting corporations or creating industry clusters, but rather becoming a place where people want to be. This is especially true for millennials who, Speck reports, will decide where they want to live, move there, and then look for employment.
  • “Study after study ties where you live to your health,” says Speck. When it comes to the benefits of a walkable city, he notes obesity is directly connected to environmental-linked inactivity, higher levels of exhaust pollution from cars is linked to illnesses such as asthma, and there are a higher number of road deaths in cities that are designed around cars rather than pedestrians.
  • When it comes to the environmental benefits of walkability, the new standards of measuring and mapping carbon emissions – per household rather than per square mile – has completely changed the way US environmentalists think about cities. While cities may be the highest generators of carbon emissions per square mile, each household in a city emits much less than those in the suburbs. Households on the urban edges generated the highest carbon emissions of all. Speck adds the denser the city, such as Manhattan in New York, the better they perform.

“We can do better. We want to do better. We want to be green,” said Speck, adding that “all the green technology innovations together contribute a fraction of what we contribute by living in a walkable neighbourhood a few blocks from a metro station in the heart of a city.”

His assertion that we have to change our cities and our lifestyles to be more sustainable rings true with Klein’s statement: “If we’re going to change everything, it’s going to take everyone.”

The ideal opportunity to join the movement for greater sustainability is offered by the ninth Green Building Convention, from 26 to 28 July 2016, at Sandton Convention Centre. The influential assembly plays a key role in shaping and developing South Africa’s green building agenda and is the highlight on the country’s sustainable development calendar.

Brian Wilkinson, CEO of GBCSA, says: “Climate scientists are unanimous in their findings: this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. Now is the time for bold, focused leadership. Now is the time for collaborative action that benefits both humans and the living planet that sustains us. Now is the time to unite with one common purpose – to build a better world now.”

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