By Helene Lefkowitz, Sustainability Consultant
I recently joined built environment and community development professionals in the first Story of Place® course, a three-month training on a regenerative development process developed by the design firm Regenesis. I participated in nine online sessions, culminating in a week-long workshop in Fort Collins, CO. The course syllabus was centered on applying the Story of Place process to urban planning efforts in Fort Collins.
Story of Place is a process for discovering the uniqueness and hidden opportunities of a place, whether a building, neighborhood, city, or region. Developing a deep understanding of a place holds the key to planning for outcomes that are uniquely suited for its surroundings, resulting in a greater chance of lasting positive impacts. The counter to place-based outcomes is one that we are all too familiar with – generic, homogenous development that looks like Anytown, USA. Much like the process of getting to know a person, Story of Place leads users through inquiry, discovery, building a relationship, and finally a deep understanding of a place.
Although the course project was at the city scale, there are several ways to apply this methodology at the building scale.
To understand the unique opportunities for a building project, we must first understand where the project is located within and beyond the project boundary. Looking beyond the limits of construction recognizes that all projects have a larger impact whether we recognize it or not. Exploring these larger boundaries (like the nearby block, community, neighborhood, city, or region) and the potential impacts that ripple out to the surrounding natural, social, and economic systems, can unlock opportunities to strengthen the building’s design and operations as well as contribute to the health and success of project factors beyond the project boundary. Understanding a project’s location at various scales, and the possible causes and effects of the project work, is a great first step in setting a project up for success.
Ambient Energy recently facilitated a design charrette in which we guided the project team through considering these larger project boundaries. Thinking through how the project fits within the neighborhood, city, and regional boundaries led to fun and thought-provoking discussions. The team walked away with fresh perspectives and creative ideas about how the project design and programming can work with the larger neighborhood and city-wide systems rather than ignore them, or worse, harm them.
The process of understanding a place, its characteristics, and the potential for a larger positive impact is an inspiring part of our project work at Ambient Energy. I challenge you to share in this inspiration and consider what opportunities exist in your current project work to have a greater impact beyond the project boundary.