Peter Drucker famously said: “You make what you measure”.
As a result, good metrics focus on the outcomes that a group or society values. But still, sometimes things go awry. Unintended consequences can result from diligently pursuing a too=limited set of metrics.
Hong Kong’s admirable efforts to house everyone, to create transit access for everyone and to preserve nature have led to the most sustainable pattern of land use I’ve ever seen. The way this city has planned and developed is the envy of policymakers trying to contain sprawl in nearly every North American city.
But the constant densification on a limited land area, the need to renew aging building stock to house more and more people (and replace crumbling concrete buildings from the 1950’s), the need to maximize land use to pay for transit infrastructure and even the desire to limit building surface area to improve air conditioning energy efficiency have all contributed to a new form of development that has significant downsides.
Large new development podiums at rail stations swallow up the public space that was once small pedestrian alleys. The podiums are less permeable, have little or no real public space within them and what public space there is can’t be customized by individuals. Furthermore, in a place where living compactly depends on tight community ties, tearing down old buildings and displacing inhabitants has tremedously disruptive effects on both business and residential communities.
The takeaway? It’s important to define what you want…and just as important to define what you don’t want.
LEED initially did a good job of defining what we wanted, but Living Building Challenge is an important tool (even if it’s not fully acheived by a project) because it focuses on doing good and minimizing harm.
Conversely, one of the things that gets my goat about the Washington State SEPA review process (and there are many), is that it focuses on only the negative impacts of a project, and ignores positive impacts.
At the end of the day, it’s the same equation that differentiates value from price: price is what you pay, value is what you get divided by what you paid. So, we should also look at public goals and public policy metrics: what do we want divided by what we had to sacrifice to get there.