That was the mostly upbeat message delivered by several members of the American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT).
SDAT members are nationally accredited professionals in numerous areas of expertise, including urban design, planning, landscape architecture, renewable energy, and traffic and transportation. They were invited in by local stakeholders to offer their expertise on how best to make beach communities greener, cleaner and more economically lean.
But the news the SDAT team delivered wasn’t sugar coated: There are some problems to be overcome in making oceanfront neighborhoods more sustainable.
One obstacle to be surmounted is that beachfront communities need to become more economically diverse.
“You have 30,000 employed people living in this area and 27,000 of them work elsewhere,” said SDAT team member Tom Liebel, whose expertise is in integrating sustainable design principles into adaptive-use and historic-preservation projects. “That’s 73,000 car trips a day by people who don’t work where they live.”
Liebel said if beach communities ultimately want to become more economically viable and environmentally sustainable, they’ll need to “think about how to create development where you don’t need to own a car.”
Liebel added that adapting the urban environment to make it more sustainable will require “changing behavior.”
“We need to move more toward walking and biking,” he said. “That’s good for the environment. You need to find alternatives. That means looking at public transit.”
Paula Reeves, an SDAT team member who specializes in developing transportation projects, told beach residents they “need to have a long-term vision in thinking about the future.”
“Start today,” Reeves said. “Think creatively and be innovative and work as a community in improving conditions for biking and walking. Engage the community. Put pedestrians first.”
Reeves said much can be done with “greenways” — long, narrow pieces of land where vegetation is encouraged for public recreation — and slow travel, to improve the walkability of urban neighborhoods. She gave a slideshow presentation detailing successful greenway development in cites like Seattle, Portland and Montreal.
Another SDAT team member, Adam Beck, an expert in environmental and social planning, pointed out that creating green infrastructure — water conservation, urban forestry, community gardens, water management — is not only an effort to create “good outcomes” environmentally, but also a way of “getting more bang for the buck” in terms of decreasing energy consumption.
Reacting to conclusions drawn at the Dec. 11 meeting, La Jolla architect Tim Golba, a member of the San Diego Planning Commission, which rules on development issues and projects citywide, including the beaches, said the idea of a community devoted to greener living would find a willing home in Pacific and Mission beaches, which, he said, are “perfect locations to advance the concept of an eco-district because of the natural attractions already present in these neighborhoods as being very walkable areas with such a conducive climate that makes them destinations for both residents and visitors.”
“The program was inspiring in that it sought out input for the entire community, not just planners or architects but everyone from business owners, employees, renters, property owners and of course, home owners,” Golba said. The Dec. 11 presentation, he continued, “reflected many great ideas to springboard from and advance to more concrete avenues that could include updates to community plans or local zoning codes.”
Pacific Beach Planning Group and Beautiful PB member Chris Olson urged residents to get involved with the project.
“Community meetings will start early next year for moving forward on these ideas and many more, so go do your homework,” he said. “Research these terms: green streets, complete streets, parklets, community gardens and walking bus. Once you are up to speed (or down to a safe speed) go to www.BeautifulPB.com and contact us to get involved.”
Kristen Victor, founder of Sustainability Matters and co-founder of Beautiful PB, also weighed on the eco-district concept, saying the idea could “inspire every city to remake itself from the neighborhood up fueling innovation to generate jobs, increase standard of living and protect the natural environment requiring smart planning and skillful execution resulting in economic growth.”
Golba expressed his hope that the concept would catch on in a larger way.
“Hopefully, this is just the beginning of the community coming together as a more unified voice to influence the built environment to be more responsive to traffic issues, employment, affordable housing and last, but by no means least, sustainable design,” he said. “While this is not an overnight update, the ideas that came from this eco-district forum can be used in small pieces and situations to make individual projects better, as well as on larger and more regional issues.”
Reacting to conclusions drawn at the Town Hall meeting, Brian J. Curry, chairman of the Pacific Beach Planning Group (PBPG) said, “We are very excited about the SDAT recommendations and the PBPG and other community groups are moving ahead to implement those proposals which are short-term, while starting the forward planning for long-term goals and projects. The public will continue to have the opportunity to weigh in on the recommendations as PBPG is forming a Community Plan Update Subcommittee in January to begin the process. There will be a special public meeting in February (date TBD).”
“All of this activity is about improving the quality of life for residents, employed and visitors to Pacific Beach,” Curry said. “We much appreciate the volunteer work and effort on part of the SDAT and local committee that coordinated and contributed to the Dec. 11-13 events. The result of the recommendations and community efforts moving ahead are a great positive for the beach and bay communities.”