Multiple Bottom Lines

Triple Bottom Line” projects are those that result in financial return on investment while also addressing social and environmental/sustainability issues. The term gets thrown around a lot in the world or urban planning and design.

The concept implies an outside-the-box approach for the people involved in the project. The sustainability-focused landscape architect needs to think about how the project funder will make money, the developer needs to think about social impacts, the community organizer needs to think about aesthetics, etc.

All land and infrastructure projects should call for this kind of thinking. A billion dollar infrastructure project should also be a billion dollar public space project and a billion dollar environmental reclamation project. Example: both Seattle and Washington, DC are investing billions of dollars in cleaning up their forgotten, abused urban waterways (the Duwamish and the Anacostia, respectively). With a billion dollars of professional expertise looking at the river and construction projects digging up the waterfront, imagine the potential impact if that effort weren’t just focused on removing toxins from the water but also creating public space, restoring habitat and creating economic opportunities for the primarily low-income residents nearby.

All projects should strive to be double, triple, quadruple-whammies. There are rating systems like Envision that encourage sustainable design for infrastructure projects. Are there frameworks that call for increased types of return (financial, social, cultural, environmental, etc.) based on the scale of the intervention? No mega project should happen without meeting multiple mega bottom lines.

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