Programming Your Next Home Purchase to Help Create Sustainable Communities

This article by Michael Figura was first published in the New Life Journal.

When you are looking for a home, office or commercial space to purchase or rent, you usually go through a process called Programming.  Programming is the process of determining your needs and deciding how a building should be designed to suit those needs.  Most people list their desires for a building, rank those desires, and then try to find a building that matches those needs.

Urban planners think about city design in much the same way, although their “building” is a town or region and the needs are that of the public at-large.  However, city and regional planning in America is hindered because of strong private property rights sentiments and because planners have to design around the automobile (see Dominance of the Automobile, September, 2007).  In order to do our part to help create sustainable communities, we need to think about whether or not the buildings that we are contemplating purchasing or renting are helping to strengthen our communities and foster a more sustainable society.

How to do this with your next real estate transaction?

Fortunately there is a guidepost.  The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has published Ten Principles for Livable Communities.

Next time you are looking at buying or renting a building, or even constructing one, consider taking these principles and ranking the buildings that you are evaluating on a 1-10 scale to see how they stack up.

The AIA’s Ten Principles for Livable Communities (abridged)*

  1. 1. Buildings on a Human Scale

Buildings that are in compact, pedestrian-friendly communities give residents the ability to walk to shops, services, cultural resources, and jobs.
2. Community with Choices
Buildings that are in communities with a variety of housing, shopping, recreation, transportation, and employment create lively neighborhoods, mix socio-economic classes and accommodate residents in various stages of their lives.

3. Mixed Use Development
Buildings that are in communities with a mix of different land uses and varied building types create vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, and diverse communities.

4. Existing Urban Centers
Buildings that are in existing urban centers take advantage of existing streets and services, which reduces the need for new infrastructure, helps to curb sprawl and promotes stability for city neighborhoods.

5. Transportation Options
Buildings that are in communities where residents can walk, bike and/or use public transit, in addition to driving, help reduce traffic congestion, protect the environment and encourage physical activity.

6. Vibrant Public Spaces
Buildings that are in communities with vibrant public spaces enable residents to have welcoming, well-defined public areas for personal interaction, celebration and reflection, art and cultural appreciation, civic participation and public events.

7. Neighborhood Identity
Buildings that help create a “sense of place” gives neighborhoods a unique character, enhance the walking environment and help create pride in the community.

8. Environmental Resources Protection
Buildings that are in the countryside and are on substantial amounts of undisturbed land help to create a balance of nature in conjunction with development to preserve natural systems, protect waterways from pollution, reduce air pollution, and benefit property values.

9. Landscapes Conservation
Homes and farms that are in the countryside and are on substantial amounts of land help protect contiguous open space, local farms and wildlife habitat, which are essential for environmental protection, local food production and recreational needs.

10. Design Matters
Buildings that have excellent urban and rural design are the foundation of successful and healthy communities.

* The AIA’s Ten Principles for Livable Communities have been adapted to fit the context of buying, renting or building real estate.  The unabridged version of the Ten Principles for Livable Communities can be found at