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Sustainable Development Projects (book review)

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Sustainable Development Projects


The concept of professional “silos” has become popular in the design professions in recent years. The idea is that professionals all operate within their own silos, independent from other professionals, with the result being that each conducts his professional practice in isolation from others. After decades of advocating sustainability yet not seeing the amount of sustainable projects come to fruition as they would expect, the silo concept has been proffered as a reason why – development projects fail to reach their full sustainable potential at least in part because professionals don't collaborate and communicate enough to make them happen.

Sustainable Development Projects: Integrating Design, Development, and Regulation by David R. Godschalk and Emil E. Malizia (2013; American Planning Association; 114 pp.; $54.95) is a brief but dense remedy to that situation. The book takes the approach that by explicating the roles and rationales that each profession operates, a better mutual understanding can be reached by those involved in development, which is something that must happen in order to succeed in developing sustainable projects.

The book divides the primary groups involved in development into three categories – Real Estate Developers, Designers, and Planners. Developers are primaily concerned with the feasibility and profit potential of a given projects; Designers (architects and landscape architects) are concerned with the form and function of the project; Planners are responsible for regulating and administering regulations in regards to development in light of the public good. Interactions amongst the three distinct groups can result in better quality, profit, intensity, value to the public interest, and flexibility, which in turn makes sustainable development more feasible.

Once that framework is established, the authors outline the steps involved in several development scenarios – an apartment project,s a residential subdivision, and an infill redevelopment. Space is also given to outlining project financial analysis and recommendations to improve professional coordination.

While all three professional disciplines are included in the text, the perspective of the developer is given the most amount of space. That's primarily because the authors hold that a project's feasibility and profit potential, the domain of the developer, is the most important in determining whether a project will come to fruition or not. It may also be that the developer's perspective may be the least understood by the other professions.

It's a short book at 114 pages, and covers a lot of terrain within its pages. While it's not exactly a step-by-step guide to sustainable development – indeed such a guide would be difficult to imagine in 114 pages. What it does is give a big-picture view of the state of the professions and how projects succeed or fail. As an introduction to the topic, it does a fair job of covering the topics necessary to understand how to evaluate a project for its feasibility and how the professionals might be able to coordinate and collaborate for the better.