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EcoDistricts: Sustainable Neighborhood Development

07.10.2012 Mithun, Bert's Blog,

Sustainability on the district and neighborhood scale is one of my biggest passions. This scale is critical to advancing energy efficiency, reducing carbon output, optimizing financial resources and furthering overall sustainability efforts in areas such as waste reduction, human health, water efficiency, and habitat enhancement. It’s small enough to rally a community around a specific place, and to get things done quickly on the local level. It can also have a big impact by employing district energy, integrated job generation, livability enhancements, district stormwater strategies, and comprehensive transportation planning.

In May, I had the opportunity to serve as a faculty member at the inaugural EcoDistrict Institute in Portland, OR. The Institute brought together 51 leaders and innovators from 10 cities across the United States, Canada and Mexico, to meet with industry experts that are shaping the future of sustainable neighborhood development. Participants came from Austin, TX, Bellingham, WA, Boston, MA, Charlotte, NC, Cleveland, OH, Guadalajara, Mexico, Mountain View, CA, Philadelphia, PA, San Francisco, CA, and Vancouver, BC to advance district-scale sustainability efforts currently underway in their own cities.

While each team is producing great work, I was especially inspired by the NGO team from Guadalajara, Mexico, who is pursuing this work in a very difficult political climate. I was also fascinated by the nature of each city’s efforts, each having uniquely local aspects, but themes of commonality. Opportunities such as district energy and challenges such as policy, governance and financing at the neighborhood scale. Mithun has been working to advance the “state of the art” of these areas for more than a decade. It is exciting to see the rapid transformation, and combined efforts, to tackle these issues around the country.

Mithun has worked closely with the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI) to create a framework, a “tool-kit” if you will, to assist cities in creating EcoDistricts. The idea behind PoSI’s framework is to use EcoDistricts as public/private “eco-innovation zones.” Combining the best in business practices, technology and public support from policy-makers, it supports a climate in which ambitious sustainability outcomes can thrive. Success is measured around eight comprehensive performance areas, including: energy, water, equitable development, community identity, access and mobility, habitat and ecosystem function, health and well-being, and materials management.

To develop this framework, we used our past experience working with private property owners, NGO’s, institutions, cities and development agencies in similar efforts including:

The next five years will see an unbelievable transformation of how cities approach the goal of a sustainable future at the district and neighborhood scale. This is very exciting, as we all can identify strongly with the campuses and neighborhoods in which we live or work. It is a wonderful scale that can promote walkability, social cohesion and the sense of community. It is very rewarding to be in a time where the values of a sustainable future can be optimized at this scale while building community.

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Video: ‘Building Birmingham’

06.21.2012 Mithun, Bert's Blog,

A short film by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), “Building Birmingham,” describes the design support the AIA Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) provided to the Pratt City neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama in response to damage caused by a tornado in April 2011. Mithun Chairman and CEO, Bert Gregory, FAIA, Mark Shapiro, AIA, and Erin Christensen, AIA, discuss the design process for rebuilding Pratt City in the film.

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Building the Future Cities Today

09.19.2011 Mithun, Bert's Blog,


Amid the beautiful late summer weather here in Seattle, fall is in the air, the kids are back in school, and conference season is upon us. Kicking-off a busy schedule, I’ll be a delegate at the 2011 International Regions Benchmarking Consortium (IRBC) Conference held in Vancouver, BC from September 20-22. The theme this year, “Building the Future Cities Today,” will explore urban sustainability issues of energy efficiency, waste and water.

IRBC is a network of metropolitan regions that compare and learn from each other through economic and social data statistics and in-depth research into specific issues of common interest. The regions include: Barcelona, Spain; Daejeon, South Korea; Dublin, Ireland; Fukuoka, Japan; Helsinki, Finland; Melbourne, Australia; Munich, Germany; Seattle, USA; Stockholm, Sweden; and Metro Vancouver, Canada.

At the IRBC conference, I will be a part of the “Staying Competitive and Sustainable in a Global Economy” panel that will address how local governments and private enterprises are feeling the pressure to apply sustainability principles. We’ll discuss how the design and development of sustainable cities can give urban centers a clear competitive advantage in a global economy, and the opportunities to best mesh economic development with sustainability imperatives in water, waste and energy. It should be a great discussion: moderated by Judy Villeneuve, Councilor, City of Surrey and Director, Metro Vancouver Board of Directors and joined by panelists Roland Engkvist, Project Manager, Regional Development, Council for the Stockholm Mälar Region; Sadhu Johnston, Deputy City Manager, City of Vancouver; Tatu Laurila, CEO, Greater Helsinki Promotion; and Joan Puigdollers, Environment Councilor, City of Barcelona (tentative).

DesignIntelligence: From Green Buildings to Green Neighborhoods

07.06.2011 Mithun, Bert's Blog, Press Releases,

I recently wrote an article, “From Green Buildings to Green Neighborhoods” for DesignIntelligence’s July/August 2011 sustainability-focused issue. We all identify with our neighborhoods and define a city by them. These are communities that are walkable units of geography, knit together by place, people, and experience. The term EcoDistrict is emerging as an inspirational beacon for collaboration among a community of public, private, non-profit, and institutional organizations and individuals. Innovations are occurring around the country to promote walkable, compact, complete, and connected mixed-use districts, campuses, and neighborhoods that are linked to mass transit. Efficiency and demand reduction being the first rules of sustainability, the Seattle 2030 District initiative is an example of an inspirational project that tackles the demand reduction basics first. Perhaps the most advanced and comprehensive effort nationally to think beyond the building to a broader district level at the sub-regional scale is Portland’s EcoDistrict Initiative. Spearheaded by the inventive Portland non-profit the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI) this initiative involves a close partnership between PoSI and the city of Portland to develop neighborhood and district-level sustainability initiatives that can be implemented in Portland, driving economic development while serving as a model for the nation. To achieve the next level of sustainability, it will be important to focus on that scale while continuing to innovate at the building level.

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Intelligent Cities Forum

05.10.2011 Mithun, Bert's Blog,

The National Building Museum in Washington, DC is hosting the Intelligent Cities Forum on Monday, June 6, 2011. Over the last year, the National Building Museum’s Intelligent Cities Initiative has brought together a wide range of thought leaders. As an Advisory Committee member, it has been a great opportunity to discuss how our rapidly accelerating ability to collect and display information will affect the design and management of cities.

This subject has been a high interest here at Mithun since our architects, interior designers, urban designers, planners and landscape architects use Building Information Modeling (BIM) to design all our projects. The intelligent BIM model dynamically computes cost, material consumption, leasable area and energy footprint. It enables us to quickly understand the impact of design choices and share them with our clients, consultants and contractor partners.

BIM is an effective tool for analyzing the building scale, neighborhood scale, campus scale, and the city scale. At the city scale, our BIM model of the central business district for the City of Bellevue, Washington will allow swift and iterative real-time visualization, simulation and analysis of this changing city. The BIM city model can be used as a platform to simulate zoning and growth scenarios, comprehensive planning, infrastructure development, mass transit alternatives, design guideline implementation and dynamic environmental forces such as the wind and sun.

The structural format of the Intelligent Cities Initiative is also based upon scale and organized around home, neighborhood, community, city, region and country. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this ordering arrangement is that it contains both neighborhood and community. At the level of the built environment, neighborhood and community seem the same. But if one expands the term community to the social networks that hold us together, be they interest, beliefs, or values, one can see how an “Intelligent City” can move beyond the physical world. Community may be the most important increment in fact, as it is only through all of us working together as a community, will be truly be able to make our cities better.

For information about speakers and session topics or to view the forum agenda visit go.nbm.org/IntelligentCitiesForum.

Intelligent Cities from National Building Museum on Vimeo.

EcoDistricts: Think Outside the Building

04.26.2011 Mithun, Bert's Blog,

EcoDistricts continue to be a popular topic of discussion as we look beyond buildings for ways to reduce our footprint. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with several great leaders in Sustainable District Planning, for a Roundtable Discussion on EcoDistricts. JR Fulton, from the University of Washington, moderated this session for publication in Sustainability Magazine’s April 2011 issue:

Earth Day 2011 – Mithun’s Continuing Commitment

04.22.2011 Mithun, Bert's Blog,

As we celebrate the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, take a moment to think back on what you have done in the past year and consider your goals for the coming year to protect this fragile earth, our island home.

One thing Mithun has done in the last year is to sign on to the AIA 2030 Commitment. Mithun has joined 155 (as of 3.1.2011) other firms around the US in adopting the AIA 2030 Commitment. By signing on to this challenge, we have committed to taking a leadership role in reducing energy consumption of the built environment. From the AIA Commitment website:

“The profession is confronting the fact that buildings are the largest single contributor to production of greenhouse gases and almost half of the total annual production. As architects, we understand the need to exercise leadership in our role in creating the built environment. Consequently, we believe we must alter our profession’s actions and encourage our clients and the entire design and construction industry to join with us to change the course of the planet’s future.”

Mithun has long been committed to furthering sustainability efforts within the profession. But this new commitment encourages us to track and report the energy use of all our projects so that we may gain traction in meeting the ambitious goals of the 2030 Challenge. As part of the AIA 2030 Commitment, firms are asked to write a Sustainability Action Plan which details their sustainable business operations as well as design approach. You can read our plan above.

Mithun’s legacy of respect for the Earth is apparent in the projects the office was involved with during the first earth day in 1969 and the leadership solar projects in Washington State during the 1970s. From Mithun’s first AIA COTE Top Ten Award in 1999, continuing incredible efforts in green leadership within our local and national community, to the amazing projects that we’re working on today with our clients and collaborating partners, we continue the legacy: “Inspiring a sustainable world though leadership, innovation, and integrated design.”

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