The world we live in is turbulent, rife with challenges including social and political unrest, global conflict, continued struggle against COVID-19, and extreme impacts of climate change. The impact of these issues has been transformative and as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, that impact will not simply subside. In fact, these issues accelerated changes in the world economy and social structures that were already beginning to happen. As a result, a new paradigm for development is forming as we continue into the 21st Century. The need for more equitable human development is emerging as a central concept as the economy transforms in what many are calling the fourth industrial revolution. At this moment, we have the opportunity to lay a new foundation that can facilitate systemic change to champion human development. To do so, we will have to think about and practice development differently.
Areas of development within this new paradigm will focus on social cohesion and equity, biocentric technology, infrastructure, and the environment, and the intersections among these areas. These areas are all interrelated, one cannot be addressed without affecting another.
Social Cohesion & Equity
Social cohesion, a concept applied across disciplines from sociology to policy, refers to solidarity amongst members of a community. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines a socially cohesive society as one which “works toward the well-being of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers its members the opportunity of upward social mobility.” Given this definition, the OECD notes that social cohesion is “both a desirable end and a means to inclusive development.”
We are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution. In a 2016 article, the World Economic Forum described this phenomenon as “characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” As with prior iterations, this industrial revolution has the “potential to raise global income levels and improve quality of life for populations around the world.” Yet related issues of inequality must be addressed to ensure the profound implications of automation, therapeutics, and beyond benefit society as a whole.
More than just roads and bridges, infrastructure impacts health, economic, and educational outcomes. Taking a more holistic approach, infrastructure is transforming into a tool to increase access, opportunity, equity, and environmental justice, often in service of correcting historic investments that had the opposite effect. For example, the City of Rochester’s Inner Loop Transformation Project “converted a sunken section of expressway, once considered the paradigm of infrastructure but having the effect of dividing the city into disconnected and inequitable places of living, to the east of Downtown to an at-grade “complete street,” that will include bicycle and walking paths” to “ encourage sustainable economic growth and create a more livable Downtown.”
There is scientific consensus from 97% of actively publishing climate scientists that humans are causing global warming and climate change. Climate change impacts our health, environment, and economy in myriad ways including unsafe air quality, extreme weather, rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities and ecosystems, and so much more. In addition, negative environmental impacts disproportionately impact vulnerable communities. With buildings responsible for nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions, there is enormous opportunity for development that will support strategies that minimize human impact to the environment and advance environmental justice.
The intersectional areas of development outlined above drive an expanded view of sustainability, an approach that recognizes that environmental, social, and economic issues are all interrelated. This approach allows us to consider the impact of design from a holistic standpoint—how design can restore the natural environment, support social cohesion, and spark economic growth, and ensuring design solutions are mutually supportive.
Environmental Sustainability relates to a traditional understanding of sustainability as an ecological issue. For designers, this type of sustainability relates to the performance of the buildings and environments we design. To achieve environmental sustainability, it is no longer enough to implement strategies that use energy well—development will also need produce energy. There is simply not enough clean energy to support future development otherwise. To measure impact from an environmental sustainability perspective, we look to recognized rating systems such LEED whose metrics for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings can be applied to quantify progress. Yet, development will need to do more. It will need to be environmentally restorative and a net producer rather than user of clean energy.
Social Sustainability considers how the built environment relates to humans, communities, and society at large. This implies sustainability across scales from the individual to the global community. Designers need to consider these scales simultaneously to create environments that support human wellbeing, culture, and community. We can measure the social sustainability of design and development against systems such as the WELL Building Standard, a framework for improving health and human experience through design, as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a framework of 17 goals to transform our world for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.
Economic Sustainability addresses the impact of the built environment on the economic structures in a community and globally. Development cannot exist in a vacuum in which financial benefits apply to the few. Instead, development will need to create economic engines serving local and global communities. Because these modes of sustainability are interrelated, so too are the rating systems we can use to measure progress; the UN Sustainable Development Goals are an important tool to assess economic impact of development.
Going beyond traditional mixed-use, Integrated Development will bring together interdependent uses that integrate within existing urban fabrics while creating new urbanizing systems to achieve environmental, social, and economic sustainability. In Part II of this blog series, we will continue to explore Integrated Development, focusing on how this concept can become reality.