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Interviewed by Urban Land, Jaime Lerner Offers Five Commandments of Sustainability

As I’m sure you know by now, last Sunday’s Times Magazine (May 20, titled Eco-tecture) was devoted to a variety of green design topics, one of which was a fascinating profile of Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, and his efforts from 1972 onwards in making Curitiba more livable.

Lerner, who now runs his own architecture firm and speaks around the world about urban planning, was also interviewed by Charles Lockwood in the April issue of Urban Land and offered his views on sustainability from an urban design perspective. He tells Urban Land that our failure to understand the role that cities play in environmental degradation is “the most serious sustainability problem facing the world.” For Lerner, “[i]t’s simply not enough to have green buildings, and it’s not enough to have new sustainable materials. Instead, it’s in the conception of the city, and of urban transport, where we can begin solving the problem.” In the article, Lerner also sets forth his five “commandments of sustainability” (presented below) while discussing a variety of other urban planning and sustainability issues.

Use your car less

Simple enough, but as Lerner points out your city or region must have a functioning mass transit system in order to make this a realistic option. If you live in the suburbs, your community was probably designed around the automobile, and you probably have very little ability to live your daily life without your car.

Either live closer to your work or bring your work closer to home

As Lerner tells Urban Land, “[w]e cannot waste energy, including our own energy or time, always going back and forth.” However, many people don’t have that option. In a place like New York, where housing costs are prohibitively expensive within the urban core, many workers have no choice but to settle in more affordable far-flung suburbs, both implicating and compounding the issues associated with Commandment #1.

Separate your garbage

No excuse for not doing this.

Understand that sustainability is the integration of saving and wasting, where you save at the top, and waste less on the bottom

Obviously, the more you save, the less you’ll waste. Living in a society whose economy is based on consumption, this is a difficult paradigm shift for many people to grasp. But, as Lerner observes, “[i]f your waste is zero, your sustainability goes to the infinitum.” At the end of the day, that’s what we’re trying to achieve.

Have multiple uses for all urban facilities

Lerner calls it “incredible” that, for example, certain sports facilities are only used ten times each year. It’s even more incredible when you consider the amount of public funds that built many of those facilities at costs upwards of $500 million. “Multiple uses make the city more compact,” he notes, suggesting that an arena could double as a farmer’s market in the morning while also serving a local university.

One Response to Interviewed by Urban Land, Jaime Lerner Offers Five Commandments of Sustainability

  1. Commercial Roofing May 31, 2007 at 3:05 pm #

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