Planning Expert Discusses “Sustainable Neighborhoods” in Lawrence University Environmental Studies Lecture

The critical importance of fundamental land use planning in the efforts to build truly “sustainable” communities will be the focus of the final installment of Lawrence University’s environmental studies lecture series dealing with issues of “green” building.

Judy Corbett, founder and executive director of the Local Government Commission in Sacramento, Calif., presents “Beyond Green Buildings: Planning for Sustainable Neighborhoods and Regions” Thursday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. in Science Hall, Room 102 on the Lawrence campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Going beyond a mere call for increased use of “green” building principles, Corbett will argue that careful land use planning is the critical element to becoming sustainable due to its potential to reduce air and water pollution, limit the loss of agricultural land and cut excessive energy use that results from the nation’s over dependence on the automobile.

Corbett will discuss the role “Smart Growth” — also known as “New Urbanism” or “Livable Communities” — is playing in making communities more transit-friendly, walkable and bike-able. She will outline the growing acceptance and implementation of Smart Growth plans around the country as well as the barriers that still need to be cleared to transform Smart Growth concepts into business-as-usual practices.

Named a “Hero for the Planet” by Time magazine in 1999, Corbett has served as executive director of the Local Government Commission for the past 24 years. The commission analyzes current social, economic and environmental problems and provides strategies that local elected officials can use to address them. The commission was awarded the American Planning Association’s national Public Education Award in 1997 and Corbett herself was honored with the APA’s 2005 National Award for “Distinguished Leadership by a Citizen Planner.”

Corbett has co-authored three books on resource efficient land use and building design, including “Designing Sustainable Communities: Learning from Village Homes,” and has published more than 50 policy guidebooks for local government officials on topics ranging from hazardous waste reduction, recycling, energy conservation and resource-efficient land use patterns. She holds a master’s degree in ecology from the University of California.

Corbett and her husband were responsible for creating Village Homes, a 60-acre pioneering experiment in ecological living that began in the late 1970s in Davis, Calif., and completed in 1981. Considered “the granddaddy” of green developments, the project successfully combined residential, commercial and agricultural elements.

Village Homes features 240 houses that incorporate the latest in solar technology. They are built in clusters and oriented toward the backyards, which open onto large common areas. The streets are narrower than normal — 23 feet wide as opposed to a more standard 36 feet — and end in cul-de-sacs. The land is contoured to capture most rainwater, with the excess flowing into ditches and ponds rather than concrete storm sewers. Winding walkways connect homes to a small courtyard of offices, reinforcing the theme of a community built for people, not cars.

The environmental lecture series is sponsored by the Spoerl Lectureship in Science in Society. Established in 1999 by Milwaukee-Downer College graduate Barbara Gray Spoerl and her husband, Edward, the lectureship promotes interest and discussion on the role of science and technology in societies worldwide.