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The Sanborn Principles for Sustainable Development

In 1994, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) gathered together a group of nationally known experts in every field related to sustainability. The group, selected at NREL's request by Barbara Harwood, included such luminaries as Amory Lovins, Perry Bigelow, John Knott, Bill Browning, Richard Register, Liz Gardener, Paul MacCready, Ned Nisson, Mark Ledbetter,* and others, developed a pathway, including specific principles, for those wishing to pursue sustainable development. Those principles, below, have been used around the world by cities, towns, and groups, to move toward a more sustainable future. (*Short bios can be found at the end of this page.)

1. Ecologically Responsive: The design of human habitat shall recognize that all resources are limited, and will respond to the patterns of natural ecology. Land plans and building designs will include only those with the least disruptive impact upon the natural ecology of the earth. Density must be most intense near neighborhood centers where facilities are most accessible.

The Acoma pueblo in New Mexico, built of indigenous adobe blocks from the site, has provided 800 years of thermal comfort to its residents in one of the country's earliest sustainable development. There's not a lot of demand in suburbia for pueblos, but we can mimic the Native American idea of using materials that are either recycled or from the area in which they will be used, and we can make our buildings so energy efficient they don't need heating and cooling systems and still have maximum comfort and convenience.

2. Healthy, Sensible Buildings: The design of human habitat must create a living environment that will be healthy for all its occupants. Buildings should be of appropriate human scale in a non-sterile, aesthetically pleasing environment. Building design must respond to toxicity of materials, care with EMF, lighting efficiency and quality, comfort requirements and resource efficiency. Buildings should be organic, integrate art, natural materials, sunlight, green plants, energy efficiency, low noise levels and water. They should not cost more than current conventional buildings. Features of the buildings and their surroundings should include:

This ultra-quiet, thermally responsive home, built by Enviro Custom Homes in north Texas, utilizes the sun for heating in winter and depends on overhangs or low-emissivity windows to keep summer sun out. It has a geothermal heating/cooling system, and only healthy building materials were used to reduce occupants' allergies.

a. no waste that cannot be assimilated.
A blackwater system at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems in Austin, TX., takes toilet and kitchen sink water through a series of natural ponds filled with specific plants to clean and reuse it.
b. Thermal responsiveness.
This thermally responsive straw bale house built by David Eisenberg in Arizona provides free direct (passive) solar heating from south-facing windows. The thermal mass of the thick walls insulates and isolates dwellers from outside changes in temperature. Natural ventilation is provided with openable windows on the north and south sides of the building.
c. Reflective or actively productive roofing or parking cover surfaces.
This solar (photovoltaic) barn roof in Albion, CA, supplies 100% of the electricity requirements for Steven Heckeroth's family, his four buildings, two cars and various pieces of farm machinery. Every year, the earth's surface receives ten times the energy stored in known reserves of fossil fuel and uranium. It represents 15,000 times the World's annual energy demand. It is ridiculous not to use it.
d. Junglified or planted with native vegetation, both exterior and interior.
This small, passive solar home site in South Australia near the Murray River has been left untouched and covered with native plants. Even in this desert environment, all the family's water needs are provided by rainwater collection. It's not exactly a jungle outside, but inside it is a bounteous habitat for tropical plants and flowers.
e. Access by foot to primary services.
f. Natural corridors near residences for wildlife.
This flood control-way between homes at Village Homes in Davis, CA., allows running water streams to flow year-round, making animal and bird habitat accessible to residents. Note that these south-facing homes maximize passive solar heating. The walkways along the waterway are in constant use by residents for bicycles, tricycles, walking and jogging.
g. Individual and/or community gardens.
h. Local agriculture for local consumption.
In sight, and in the backyards of some homes at Village Homes in Davis, CA., grapevines rest during winter, then produce prolifically in summers. Residents bottle the harvest for local use and sale, and all of this happens in their own community.

3. Socially Just: Habitats shall be equally accessible across economic classes.

Small spaces, charmingly designed, can be solutions for quality, sustainable, low-cost housing. Hanging a child's bed on a wall with desk, dresser and closet under it make a 7' x 8' room useable and fun! Place it inside a very energy efficient small home or apartment heated by the sun for beauty, cheer, and affordability.

4. Culturally Creative: Habitats will allow ethnic groups to maintain individual cultural identities and neighborhoods while integrating into the larger community. All population groups shall have access to art, theater and music.

5. Beautiful: Beauty in a habitat environment is necessary for the soul development of human beings. It is yeast for the ferment of individual creativity. Intimacy with the beauty and numinous mystery of nature must be available to enliven our sense of the sacred.

A stained glass window in a low-cost home in Dallas. Beauty should be available to all.

6. Physically and Economically Accessible: All sites within the habitat shall be accessible and rich in resources to those living within walkable (or wheelchair-able) distance. Accessible characteristics shall include:
a. Radical traffic calming.
Traffic is calmed by narrow or curving streets, and obstacles, such as trees, in the middle of streets. When traffic is calmed, areas become safer for both adults and children, and streets can become part of a living scenario, instead of fearful and noisy speed raceways. This European village, built in a congested Dutch city, provides additional play space for children by radically calming traffic between high-density homes.
b. Clean, accessible, economical mass transit
c. Bicycle paths
d. Small neighborhood service businesses; i.e. bakeries, tailors, groceries, fish and meat markets, delis, coffee bars, etc.
e. Places to go where chances of accidental meetings are high; i.e. neighborhood parks, playgrounds, cafes, sports centers, community centers, etc.

7. Evolutionary: Habitats' design shall include continuous re-evaluation of premises and values, shall be demographically responsive and flexible to change over time to support future user needs. Initial designs should reflect our society's heterogeneity and have a feedback system. They shall be:

a. Villagified
b. Multigenerational
c. Non-exclusionary

Amory Lovins, founder and co-Director of Rocky Mountain Institute, (www.RMI.org) world renowned resource for all facets of sustainable planning and design, and renewable energy policy, adviser to governments and corporations.

Perry Bigelow, President of Bigelow Homes, (www.Bigelowhomes.com) Chicago builder and developer of sustainable homes in all price-ranges; most famous for his "Hometowns" fully sustainable small villages in various Chicago suburbs.

John Knott, developer of Dewees Island, (www.deweesisland.com), a fully-sustainable island off the coast of South Carolina, and co-developer of the first fully-sustainable city restoration in North Charleston: the Noisette Project.(www.noisettesc.com)

Bill Browning, Founder/Director of Green Building Team for RMI, and author of two books on sustainable development, including A Primer on Sustainable Building.

Richard Register, Founder and President of Ecocity Builders, author of Ecocities Building Cities in Balance with Natures; founder of the Ecocity Conference series. (www.ecocitybuilders.org)

Liz Gardener, Manager of Water Conservation Programs for the Denver Water Board. (www.waterwiser.org)

Paul MacCready, founder and President of Aerovironment, developer of futuristic transportation systems, including, among other inventions, the Gossamer Albatross and the Gossamer Condor, both of which are hanging in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum; and the Helios, solar powered high altitude aircraft. (www.aerovironment.com)

Ned Nisson, founder of Energy Design Update, nationally respected publication on new systems for sustainable architecture and planning.

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