By Susan Rainier
Last spring, the city of Davis received three responses from developers to its request for expressions of interest for innovation business research parks. The Planning Department wants to fast-track completion of required studies, analysis and discussion — including consideration of alternatives — for a March 2016 Measure R community vote on two of the three projects, plus another on the Nishi property between Interstate 80 and downtown Davis.
Recently, three council members strongly objected to processing and voting on all three together in one year, as it would mean finalizing planning, business and housing design, transportation and, most importantly, environmental studies for the public to accept or reject this conversion and annexation of large agricultural acreage.
“The city is the teacher of the man.” — Simondes of Ceos, Greek poet
The “guiding principles” for the projects, approved by the city on Dec. 16 to guide these major developments, are neither specific enough nor strong enough to achieve true innovation or true sustainability in building and site planning. Specific thresholds of performance have not been described. The only clear performance goal is revenue generation for the city and job creation, yet a performance level is not even specified. Net zero energy is not mentioned.
At City Council meetings and in a recent op-ed piece, Davis residents have called on the city to require an established sustainability certification program so climate change reversal goals can be both realized and enforceable by contract. There is legitimate fear of getting “green-washed” projects and nothing truly innovative in building and site design with only building code and site plan minimums.
High sustainability programs ask cities to assess existing building stock as major carbon producers: What about the existing research parks in Davis? What is happening to those properties of a past era of economic development? What about retrofitting UCD’s Solano Park to today’s standards in its beautiful setting? What about upgrading old low-end strip malls, such as the G Street shopping center that houses the Davis Food Co-op and the Davis Manor Shopping Center to be energy-efficient and beautiful?
“The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not everyone’s greed.” — Mohandas Gandhi
We cannot ignore the climate crisis; it’s time for urgent action. Decisions made now are crucial to meet the city’s climate action goals and show we care about future generations and are committed to move past the old environmentally destructive, wasteful, polluting and status quo development to truly innovative projects based on restorative life-sustaining principles as a regenerative generational blessing.
If not we, then who? If not now, then when? It is time to reject old paradigms of development and embrace true innovation defined as bringing transformation, metamorphosis, breakthrough; new methods, ingenuity, inspiration, inventiveness for every aspect of these projects by requiring the highest knowledge that many developers, architects, contractors and planners are already demonstrating in universities and cities nationally and internationally.
Success is achieved when there is a balance among environment-social-economic parameters. Currently, the focus is only on the “economic” — revenue generation and jobs.
UC Davis, the city and county all have reputations to maintain as leaders in sustainability and cannot do less than already accomplished; we trust them to do more.
“Fiat Lux — Let There Be Light” — UC Davis motto
“A bold commitment to carbon neutrality is at the core of climate leadership, scaling campus commitments across a state system like UC moves the needle even further, “ said Timothy Carter, who oversees American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment that has been signed by all 10 UC chancellors. UCD has multiple LEED platinum buildings as well as net-zero-energy buildings, and has won awards at the UC Sustainability Conferences.
The most bike-friendly town in the world — City of Davis motto
Davis has the world-renowned innovative Village Homes, Cool Davis and is the first platinum-level city in the United States for bicycles. The Davis Farmers Market is considered the best in the country for organic food.
You Only Live Once — Yolo County motto
Some Yolo County buildings have zero power bills, thanks to solar energy with 7 MW solar arrays.
Cities are complex human-made organisms with a “metabolism” that must be studied for existing building stock and flows: products, people, utilities, winds, etc. Great care needs to be taken when population and development are rapidly increasing.
Master plans for cities and new developments should be seen through the eyes of the life cycle of building materials and of ongoing utility costs. Urban design needs to be constantly revisited and renovated toward an ever-higher level of new understandings in design and planning.
Effective planning outcomes are well received by the community when they meet current and future climate sustainability requirements. The Living Community Challenge, described to the Davis City Council, provides an excellent framework for our city and region to use now and build upon.
Many highly innovative projects have used integrated project teams and achieved great success and high-level sustainability in record time within budget because these teams are based on trust, respect, integrity and inclusive collaboration.
This is a call for the city to adopt the Living Community Challenge “… in pursuit of a future that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.”
Already, three communities across the country are committed and registered to achieve this challenge. There are six pilot projects in New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Seattle and San Francisco, and seven communities assessing their commitment.
We should expect nothing less for Davis and these innovation parks!
— Susan Rainier, AIA, an architect and “urban resiliency” planner and advocate, is the founder of Visionary series, which brings top innovators to the region. She is a Central Valley Living Future facilitator.