Fresh on the heels of my post on “Sprawlanta,” the first webisode of the thought-provoking New Urbanist film series America Makeover, I’m pleased to bring to your attention a new major player in the green community building movement: The Sustainable Cities Institute.


The Sustainable Cities Institute was created by the fabulous The Home Depot Foundation (THDF), an organization dedicated to the creation of affordable housing and sustainable, healthy communities. SCI officially launches today at the 18th national conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CU18), being held in the most apt (or some would say, perverse) of places, the belly of the sprawl-beast itself: Atlanta. For CU18 highlights — the theme is "Rx for Healthy Cities — check out my buddy Greg Lindsay’s posts on celebrity anti-sprawl advocate David Bryne and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan over at Fast Company.


The Sustainable Cities Institute is a two-part initiative. The first part is up and running: the SCI website, a “dynamic online toolbox” for city leaders and sustainability professionals to “utilize for a holistic, long-term approach to sustainability planning and implementation of healthy communities.”


Although the site was constructed by THDF (in collaboration with a slew of excellent partners including Southface, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the EPA, the USGBC, and others) and meant to be used and shaped by thought-leaders and decision-makers, it’s still certainly worth taking a look at; the interactive Sustainable City Map is particularly impressive and there are plenty of other features that anyone interested in green community building can learn from.


The second part of SCI is the on-the-ground City Program, an initiative that brings the resources available on the website to life through the greening of two pilot cities. Here’s a bit more on the specifics of the City Program:


This [The City Program] will be composed of a panel of sustainable development experts who will serve as a resource to cities in developing and implementing sustainable community development plans. The Institute’s members will have access to experts with the expertise and experience in addressing issues as varied and interconnected as urban sprawl, inner-city and brownfield redevelopment, economic development and growth, ecosystem management, agriculture, hydrology, biodiversity, green buildings, energy conservation, watershed management, and pollution prevention.

Okay, so what does this all mean exactly? I described New Urbanism, the "antidote to sprawl" earlier this week as "a movement that champions front porches, neighborhood businesses, quick commutes, community gardens, and parks that don’t require a 40-minute drive." Kelly Caffarellli, president of The Home Depot Foundation, sums up it up nicely in a THDF blog post:


… CNU focuses on planning and developing communities for people, not just cars, and for all kinds of people doing different things.


Essentially, it’s a throwback to Mayberry R.F.D., a small town where the doctor lived next to the barber (or sheriff) and you could walk downtown to shop or get an ice cream cone. There was a park to throw a ball or have a picnic (baseball and apple pie). Now we talk about sustainability and new urbanism, mixed-use developments and TODs (transit oriented development). We don’t say you can walk to town, we say that it’s pedestrian-friendly or walkable — you get the gist.

Still a bit confused as to what exactly the New Urbanism movement aims to achieve? I highly recommend checking out the Congress for New Urbanism homepage, Caffarelli's THDF blog post, and, of course, the Sustainable Cities Institute website to learn more. And if you haven't already, check out American Makeover's "Sprawlanta" video.

Although I primarily blog about green topics that pertain to in, at, and around the home — home truly is where the green heart is — I believe that, much like The Home Depot Foundation, eco-friendly abodes thrive best in neighborhoods/communities where there’s a palpable sense of eco-awareness. So keep on checking back for periodic posts on New Urbanism and sustainable communities ... it's an exciting movement with a formidable new force in the form of the Sustainable Cities Institute. 

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The Home Depot Foundation takes on sustainable cities
The Home Depot Foundation launches the Sustainable Cities Institute in conjunction with the 18th meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism in Atlanta.