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Panel Discussion: The Past and Future of Sustainable Planning and Design in an Uncertain Era

March 13, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Panel Discussion: The Past and Future of Sustainable Planning and Design in an Uncertain Era


Over the last several decades, urban planners and designers have elevated sustainable development as a central aspiration for cities of the future. Yet the idea of sustainability has not stood still. We have seen encouraging signs: the institutionalization in practice and education, and the growth in municipal sustainability staff, plans and measures. Sustainability is integrated (sometimes deeply, sometimes surgically) into many planning programs (including Michigan). But sustainability is also a wobbly idea and a contested public priority. Government budget cuts and anti-government (and often anti-science) politics threaten progress in expanding sustainability efforts in land use, green design, public transportation, green infrastructure, water and energy conservation. Frequent conflicts between traditional middle-class environmentalism and the growing inequality between rich and poor neighborhoods test and challenge the ostensibly natural alliance between sustainable development and social justice. And climate change is the game changer that has forced planning and design to rework the long-term goals of sustainability. If we once focused on the shift from 1970s environmentalism to 1990s environmental sustainability, we must now shift from 1990s sustainability to today’s adaptation, mitigation and resilience in an era of vulnerability to sea level rise, drought, rising temperatures, and increasingly violent storms. Global climate change will remap the social and spatial distribution of risk and reward of urban development, and our planning maps and design guidelines need to keep apace.

In this March 2017 symposium we invite participants to both take stock on the progress and pitfalls of sustainable planning and design over the last several decades and critically examine the future of sustainability. How might planners and designers build stronger alliances and shared practices between sustainability and social justice? How does the long-running gap between architectural and urban planning education and practice undermine sustainable urbanism? Will sustainability remain a powerful organizing principle in the crowded arena of ideas — resilience, poverty, mobility, privatization, economic development, resurgent nativism — competing for the public’s attention (and the public’s funding)? For sustainability to stay relevant in the coming years, the idea cannot stand still. It will need to further evolve to remain a compelling, constructive framework to mediate new challenges: the environmental crises of mega-cities and slums; the volatile, shifting energy landscape (increased demand for cars, the boom in fracking, the resurgence of nuclear, the uncertain renewables); crumbling and antiquated infrastructure; the unsettled political landscape in both the United States and internationally that may threaten international cooperation on environmental threats; and above all, global climate change (threatened coastal communities, hazardous weather, water shortages, forced migrations).

Scott Campbell, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Lisa Schweitzer, University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy
Philip Berke, Texas A&M University Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning
Steven Moore, University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture
Sonia Hirt, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation

Moderated by June Manning Thomas, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

This event is generously co-sponsored by the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment. 



March 13, 2017
6:00 pm
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