LA the sustainability lab: Andres Duany & Jeff Speck's Smart Growth Manual for Angelenos

Away from school, away from work, and possibly, with family for the holidays: many Southern Californians are simply at home. KPCC’s Molly Peterson is curious about what makes home sustainable. This week, she profiles people who think about planning and housing matters that most of us take for granted. She begins with a regional perspective from an urban planner and architect.


First in a three-part series
Southern California is a laboratory for everything that can go wrong in urban design, says Andres Duany. Also: he likes that. "You can find probably California has pioneered suburban sprawl and every aspect of it," he says. "But at the same time California has all the best examples of things as well. There are wonderful downtowns. Wonderful urban agricultural areas. And I think California is probably a good example of as good as things can get and as bad as things can get."

Over a quarter-century Duany, his wife and their Miami-based architectural firm have promoted what they and others call "new urbanism." They argue that a sustainable community values dense and mixed-use neighborhoods with pedestrian options. Duany says smart growth tends to be complicated. California tends to be reductivist.

Duany contends that the state's decades-old practice of public involvement has had a paradoxical effect. In the face of thousand-page environmental impact reports, he says people OVER-simplify pieces of the puzzle they can understand. Duany's written a new book he says may help citizens put the whole puzzle together. "The public process that exists in California is a crapshoot. It's always dicey. Sometimes it comes up with an environmental answer. And just as often it doesn’t. And what this book tries to do is increase the win-loss ration towards the wins. "

The Smart Growth Manual, co-written with Jeff Speck, devotes a paragraph a page to principles. Some are specific to a street, or a building: Santa Monica's green-certified parking shed gets a shout-out. Others focus on regional issues: one features the Del Mar Metro Gold Line Station in Pasadena as a good convergence of public transportation and mixed land use. Andres Duany says that evolutions in engineering drove the book's plans. "10 years ago it was all about getting the water off the streets as quickly as possible and putting them in a pipe taken somewhere else and processed. Cleansed, processed, thrown in the river. Now the theory is you allow them to filter in where the rainwater lands."

Orange County, Los Angeles and Malibu all do that. Duany says California's groundbreaking spirit shows up in a new smart growth law. It integrates regional planning, land use and housing issues, with consideration for a changing climate. Duany's new book won't tell activists how to win points at meetings. But he says he does feel urgent about policies that sustain communities and homes. "We can’t wait for the public process in California to take its nice slow deliberative cantankerous contentious way. This crisis is akin to war. Leaders must take decisions; people must understand what the issues are and trust them to do it. That kind of things has not been seen in California for a very long time."

Over the next several days, we’ll hear from southern Californians who are thinking about whether and how to make their homes sustainable – within a region, a city, a neighborhood, and their lives.

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