Sustainable Planning For a Foolproof Future

Throughout urban planning’s history, there has been one particular cause and effect loop that may continue to manifest as the field continues to evolve. This cycle being that a solution to a problem will eventually result in new problems. Nowhere does this sort of cycle seem more prevalent than within the sustainable planning aspects of the city. In fact, this cycle can be applied to almost every form of sustainability. It has included the development of sprawl, followed by the solutions intended to help counteract the many harmful effects of sprawl. Concepts like New Urbanism, while immensely helpful in many ways, have the potential to also negate the positive effects of implementing it.
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Working conditions of the 19th Century’s Industrial Revolution.  Image via

History of Urban Development

The history of the city spans centuries, but one of the key points in the development of the modern city was in part due to the Industrial Revolution. During that time, cities were forming and evolving to help the Industrial Revolution move forward. Cities became centers for industry, as technological and market advances progressed in astonishing ways.

However, with this advancement came a price. The cities during that time frame, and those affected later by its impact, were unsuitable for anything but a poor quality of life. In particular, cities during this time were a sustainable nightmare. Every conceivable knock against the environment was committed by these early cities. If these cities were judged by today’s standards, they would have drastically failed any evaluation.

An example of a suburb design in Texas. Image via

An example of a suburb design in Texas. Image via

Evolution of Sustainable Planning

Consequently, many alternate methods of planning were developed – one of the most famous being the suburb. However, the suburb has problems of its own. Most notably, sprawl has contributed to many sustainability issues, such as pollution, transportation, and many others. In response to the many problems of the suburb, alternate forms of sustainable planning have been conceived. Some of these methods of sustainable planning include mixed use, form based codes, and smart growth.

Since then, however, these types of sustainable planning methods aimed at combating sprawl have their own potential problems.  Essentially, this is one of the side effects that pervades many solutions. This is overall one of the biggest challenges of sustainability in urban planning. How does one side-step this? Many sustainable solutions, once implemented, stand a high chance of being imperfect solutions to problems. The only way to make sustainable solutions foolproof would be perfect care for negating harmful side effects of these solutions.


An example of a mixed-use sustainable planning concept, the Greenfire Campus Project. Image via PSF Mechanical.

Shedding Light on Urban Development Solutions

This spotlight on cause-and-effect is not intended to discourage and succumb to an imperfect world. It’s simply meant to highlight the complexity of any sustainable issue. No solution is simple. As one aims to make a mark in this field, it is of the utmost importance that every individual in the field be aware that their solutions have long term effects, both positive and negative. Only when an individual aims to consider every angle of a solution’s effects, will they be maximizing their successes.

In the end, this issue can be applied to far more than just a niche part of a broader field. This is not a way to discourage, but rather encourage everyone in the sustainability field to think about the long term effects of their methods and actions when trying to achieve sustainability. Only by knowing how to overcome the deficiencies and ending up with only the positive effects will a sustainable plan truly be bulletproof.

Feature Image: Modern suburb.  Image via

About The Author

Alex Ageno earned his degree in Urban Planning in 2013 from Arizona State University. Alex's interests in Urban Planning include Urban Design, Sustainability, Form Based Codes, Zoning, and Environmental Planning. He resides in Arizona.