Architects, Climate Change and Transportation Policy


In late April, I was invited to participate in a transportation and land-use policy conference organized by TransForm in Sacramento, California.  As the government and public affairs director for the Los Angeles chapter of The American Institute of Architects, I am often included in conversations that impact the built environment. Although these discussions revolve around potential policies that would have tremendous impacts on the future of our built environment, there are a few recurring questions that I always receive from the other professionals in attendance:  why do architects care about transportation policy?  What's in it for them?  After all, from the perspective of the planners, environmentalists, policy wonks and engineers in the audience, there is very little room for aesthetics when it comes to building these vast transportation networks.  When I hear these questions, I am always a bit surprised.  I remind them that architects do so much more than craft aesthetics and design buildings.  With patience, and a little wry smile, I explain that architects are trained to design entire systems of overlapping, if not competitive, networks that emphasize and elevate the human experience.  And if done well, with success:  facilitate one's daily encounter with the sublime.

As we invest in a revamped mobility system, we need to do so much more than reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled.  We need to do so much more than simply conserve fiscal and natural resources.  What we need most in our evolving mobility system is a genuine and lasting opportunity to constantly enhance the human experience -  a system that delights our senses, protects our mental health and physical well-being, elevates our spirit and enables us to live better, more equitable and socially engaging lifestyles.  That's what roads, bridges, train-tracks, tunnels, skyways, sidewalks and bike paths are for - to connect us to our selves!

While at the transportation conference, I also had a chance to ask the Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, Mary D. Nichols, a few unanswerable questions:  
  • Is there any way we can use carbon credits to fund zoning code updates, i.e., monetizing the delta between a current zoning code's carbon footprint with that of a future, more optimal zoning code?
  • Are there any informational models out there that accurately analyze and correlate land-use plans with the 'desire-path' of true human activity and measure that delta against the 'sweet-spot' for maximizing economic output?
  • In a future system where every cost is accounted for and allocated towards something tangible, is there a way to identify the most optimal price for energy that ensures a reliable and yet realistic per capita GDP growth curve that can therefore be bonded against as a secure institutional investment strategy?
Although I didn't really get much of a response, I am still committed to further connecting architects to these discussions so that the analysis of human experience can remain at the forefront of these discussions.  Otherwise, we are not asking the right questions, are we? 

-Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA
Last updated: 22-May-2013 03:02 PM
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