Bridging Scales for Climate Action

I vividly remember Al Gore visiting my college campus to deliver a call to action on climate change — this would later be adapted into the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The presentation was compelling and it highlighted the need to take action at multiple scales, especially given the inaction at the federal level. This is what led me to pursue a career devoted to cities, and later urban design, as I believed that municipalities like New York and Denver and Seattle were leading the charge.

It’s remarkable how much the conversation has changed over the past decade. Cities have moved beyond carbon mitigation alone and are increasingly recognizing the importance of developing strategies for adaptation and resilience.

What I like about working at the urban design scale is that it is where these efforts feel tangible, as it is where citywide polices are “bridged” with citizen-led efforts to shape or reshape our buildings, streets, public spaces, and infrastructure for a sustainable future.

There have been numerous efforts to codify sustainable urban design for built environment professionals and municipalities alike: LEED-ND, Sustainable Sites, Envision, STAR Communities, and EcoDistricts, to name a few. While all those assessment systems can sometimes sound wonky and none are perfect, I think they are sparking a healthy conversation among urban designers about precisely what qualities should be informing design, and who should be involved in making those decisions. I’m excited to see where the conversation goes.


Christopher Rhie is an Energy and Sustainability Planner at BuroHappold Engineering. Follow him on twitter at @chris_rhie


Voices of Urban Design is a discussion forum that is curated by the APA New York Metro Chapter’s Urban Design Committee. Posts are edited for clarity and length only; opinions and statements that appear in this blog are not endorsed by the American Planning Association nor its affiliates. We expect and encourage healthy debate!
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