The Economic Benefits of Transit Service

How do we determine why and under what conditions investments in transit contribute to the economic growth of cities? Many planners and theorists argue that better public transit solutions have a clear correlation to improved urban economies and better opportunities for people living and working in these regions. And indeed, some evidence suggests that transport improvements do enable the growth and densification of cities, downtowns, or industrial clusters, providing better accessibility to ideas and labor and thereby returning a net benefit.

But, the relationship is not simple. There is also evidence to the contrary — that transit may just redistribute benefits. By reducing transport costs, public transit improvements could even lead to cheaper land, sprawl and de-densification, and reduced proximity of firms, workers, and consumers to each other.

So how do cities make the right decisions about funding public transportation improvements that are intended to bolster the local economy? To get to the answer, several fundamental questions need to be addressed. What effect does public transit have on physical agglomeration measures like employment density? What effect do any such changes have on economic productivity? Are local development changes near transit stops just a shifting-around of residents and workers, or do they signal genuinely new economic activity?

New River Line diesel train. The goal as with many rail transit projects is to attract so-called choice riders. Some evidence that this happened; for example, a substantially higher share of riders on the River Line access it via park and ride than bus users.
New River Line diesel train. The goal as with many rail transit projects is to attract so-called choice riders. Some evidence that this happened; for example, a substantially higher share of riders on the River Line access it via park and ride than bus users. Enlarge [+]

In his current research on the impacts of transport improvements on agglomeration economies, Assistant Professor of City & Regional Planning, Dan Chatman, points out that the scarcity of both readily available data and good theories about transit and economic growth make answering such questions a challenge.

Building on a body of previous research that showed the connection between employment density and higher wages, Chatman and his colleagues sought to trace the links between transit, agglomeration, and productivity, and constructed models based on data from approximately 90% of the 364 metropolitan areas in the U.S.

Supporting advocates for the benefits of transportation improvements, the study found significant indirect productivity effects. For example, in the case of central city employment density, estimated annual wage increases across metropolitan areas averaged $45 million for a 10 per cent increase in seats or rail service miles per capita. However, since the costs of providing new transit service or improving existing transit service can be quite high, the productivity benefits associated with transit-induced agglomeration may not in many instances swing the balance to a positive benefit-cost calculation. But the study results do suggest that there are unanticipated benefits from densification and growth due to transit improvements. Particularly in large cities where roads are congested, space is at a premium, and rents are high, the additional benefits may provide a justification for transit service improvements.

In a separate study that took an in-depth look at the economic impacts of New Jersey’s River Line, a less positive picture emerged. Originally proposed in the 1990s, the River Line broke ground in 2000 and began operation in 2004. From its conception, there were arguments both for and against the proposed project. Public officials hoped that it would help to revive the adjacent towns’ economies, bringing visitors to local tourist attractions and capturing commuters to prime destinations or transfer hubs, while the inevitable not-in-my-backyard protests came from residents who feared that the rail line would drive down property values.

Map showing household income in the 4 county area along the River Line.
Map showing household income in the 4 county area along the River Line. Enlarge [+]

Specifically focusing on single family homes near the 34-mile stretch of rail service between Camden and Trenton along the Delaware River, Chatman analyzed home sales values before and after the line opened, comparing properties of different types near the River Line to a large set of properties sold in the four-county region, between 1989 and 2007. For low-income area properties near stations, property values appreciated significantly. But for properties farther than one-quarter mile away, the net estimate was neutral and, in the two to three mile radius, the estimate was negative, suggesting a redistribution of property appreciation gains. For the small number of houses in higher-income areas, having a River Line rail station within a quarter-mile was also associated with slight reductions in value.

It is important to recognize that these findings only reflect relatively short-term impacts. With the River Line now operating at near to full capacity, there is evidence that new higher-density development could increase, eventually leading to a more positive outcome.

For urban planners and cities debating the economic value of public transportation investments, these results suggest that large cities with significant road congestion should expect large economic benefits from public transit expansions that enable central city densification. At the same time, while improvements to transit service in other locations may benefit lower-income households and other groups with higher reliance on transit, they may not confer the same levels of generalized economic benefit. Nevertheless, as cities and metropolitan areas become more congested, it is critical that we continue to strive to understand the complex relationships between transit, urban growth, and productivity so that we make the wisest decisions with the greatest overall benefit.

Studying the Benefits of Accessory Dwelling Units

Left, 1415 Allston Way; right, 1843 Berryman Street.
Left, 1415 Allston Way; right, 1843 Berryman Street.

Students and faculty at the College of Environmental Design have long designed creative approaches to increasing density in residential neighborhoods. But California’s implementation of SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, is putting new pressure on communities to support infill development. So the timing could not be more perfect for the Institute of Urban and Regional Development’s Center for Community Innovation to study small-scale infill, specifically, the potential impact of an accessory dwelling unit strategy in the East Bay.

In-law units, or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), are self-contained, smaller living units on the lot of a single-family home. They can be either attached to the primary house, such as an above-the-garage unit or a basement unit, or, as is more typical in Berkeley, an independent cottage or carriage-house. They are an easy way to provide homeowners with flexible space for a home office or an on-site caregiver, additional rental income, or a space for elderly family members to remain in a family environment. In short, they offer the kind of flexibility that has become imperative in today’s world to accommodate fluctuating work schedules and alternative family arrangements.

Left, 2601 Derby Street; right, 1822 Virginia Street.
Left, 2601 Derby Street; right, 1822 Virginia Street.

The concept, often termed “invisible density” or “distributed housing,” is hardly a new idea — indeed, the practice of building a supplementary unit behind a main house has been prevalent in Berkeley and throughout the East Bay for over a century. But ADUs particularly fit the context of Berkeley’s flatlands, with their historically “blue-collar urban form.” These “minimal-bungalow” districts are characterized by neat regularity, uniform land use, and little change — making them ideal for ADU development. Developers in the 1910s and 1920s widened the lots from 25 feet to 40 feet, created uniform setbacks, and supplied single backyard garages in order to maintain lower densities in the neighborhood. CED Professor Paul Groth argues that this uniformity was meant to create more predictable land values and erase the visual evidence of class struggle seen in more mixed-use, informal districts by imposing middle-class values. But today, the wide lots and historic garages provide an opportunity for infill.

ADUs provide benefits for both society and individuals. As infill development, they make efficient and “green” use of existing infrastructure and help increase densities to levels at which transit becomes viable — yet with lower costs and quicker permitting processes than for larger, multi-family building types. Because ADUs tend to be relatively small and their amenities modest, they provide more affordable housing options (at less than one-third of the cost of comparable units in multi-family buildings). Oftentimes, these units are the only rental housing available in older, predominantly single-family neighborhoods, making it possible for people from all walks of life to live in the area. Yet, they also significantly improve the value of the property, in essence constituting an asset-building strategy for homeowners.

Left, Ventura Avenue at Marin Avenue; right, Edwards Street at Channing Way.
Left, Ventura Avenue at Marin Avenue; right, Edwards Street at Channing Way.

The Center for Community Innovation (CCI) is studying the potential to add detached ADUs on single-family lots in Berkeley and other East Bay cities as a way to moderately increase density, provide homeowners with extra income, and create affordable rental units — all while preserving the character of existing neighborhoods. Based solely on lot size requirements and the square footage of existing structures, tens of thousands of homeowners could construct ADUs. However, a closer look at city regulations reveals other barriers to scaling up the strategy. Most importantly, most cities require the property to provide space for two parking spots — one for the existing single-family home, and another for the ADU.

CCI is studying ways to relax these off-street parking requirements without contributing to neighborhood parking problems. In neighborhoods near Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations, residents may not need to own a car, particularly if car sharing is available. Car sharing services like Zipcar and City CarShare allow members to access a car whenever they need one, without the hassle of owning — and parking — their own individual vehicles. By finding ways to integrate ADU development with transit ridership and car sharing, CCI hopes to facilitate the development of sustainable, affordable housing options in Berkeley’s neighborhoods. The study will be available by fall 2011.

Virginia Street.
Virginia Street.

But the biggest barrier is perhaps psychological. Homeowners regularly fight neighbors’ plans to alter their property. Though they may object to a building’s form and appearance, or the loss of privacy in their own backyards, more likely they are concerned about the impacts of increased car parking on the street. Sensing the objections of the neighbors, homeowners balk at improving their own property, even if it makes financial sense. And ironically, the homeowners who would most benefit from the improvement — whether because they live in older small houses or because their family income is unstable — are often themselves reluctant or fearful of assuming the new financial obligation.

The best way to overcome these fears is by demonstrating the benefits and value of ADUs. Luckily, a CED class on sustainable design, taught by Ashok Gadgil from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, was the genesis of a demonstration project — a model cottage in my West Berkeley backyard. Students analyzed zoning requirements and developed preliminary designs for a net-zero-energy cottage. Energy efficiency measures, such as well-insulated walls, reduce the building’s electricity usage, while a new solar photovoltaic system removes the cottage and the main house from the electricity grid. Built for $100,000, and rented for $1,200 per month, the cottage not only makes financial sense but also demonstrates how careful design can make a small space beautiful. That there is significant interest in the idea became apparent during our open house in January 2011, which attracted almost 500 people.

Net-zero-energy affordable unit located in author Karen Chapple’s backyard.
Net-zero-energy affordable unit located in author Karen Chapple’s backyard.

The next step is to demonstrate the value of scaling up an ADU strategy. The CCI study is analyzing the potential impact of constructing thousands of these units in the East Bay. In economic terms, the impact is significant. A $100,000 ADU generates an additional $80,000 of indirect and induced spending in the economy, and if most purchases are made locally, each ADU creates one year-long local job. Thus, construction of 4,000 ADUs locally would mean 4,000 local jobs. New property taxes could feed city coffers. And, each net-zero-energy ADU creates energy savings that impact the local economy. If households save $25 in energy costs each month, construction of 4,000 ADUs could thus mean an additional $1.8 million spent on local goods and services each year. If the new households are clustered, they may be able to help the region’s struggling retail corridors become more viable.

Other impacts we are evaluating pertain more to resource use, particularly in California. Distributed generation will reduce dependence on utility-produced energy. Incorporation of greywater systems — for instance, recycling water for irrigation needs — at a large scale could reduce pressure on California’s water supply. And clustered demand for alternative transportation modes could make local car share and transit systems more sustainable.

Ultimately, though, an academic study will not persuade policymakers to scale up this strategy. What should happen next is another demonstration project, this time on a larger scale. What if the local utility, water, housing, and transit agencies, working closely with the cities, sponsored a pilot program that incentivizes homeowners to build 100 ADUs in the region? Such a pilot could help overcome homeowner inertia, and would also demonstrate the benefits of scale to the agencies themselves. The precedent for this exists in the pilot energy-efficiency programs that cities, funded by federal stimulus dollars, have been offering to local homeowners. CED and its research centers look forward to providing a venue that spurs this conversation — and results in a more sustainable Bay Area and California.

Active Matter Matters

In 2010, the National Science Foundation (NSF) recognized the need for novel research collaborations in the area of sustainable environmental design.

For the first time in history, NSF issued a call for proposals with the requirement that architects be members of proposed project teams. The NSF Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) Science in Energy and Environmental Design (SEED) program includes a specific track focused on Engineering Sustainable Buildings. This program funded ten projects through a peer-reviewed competition of over 200 proposals.

A singular, cross-campus collaboration at UC Berkeley, involving architecture (Maria-Paz Gutierrez), civil and environmental engineering (Slawomir Hermanowicz), and bio-engineering (Luke Lee), was among the first round of EFRISEED awards. The Berkeley team proposed the development of a new building technology for water recycling and thermal control based on micro-engineering principles for architecture (see figure 1). NSF awarded $2 million to this project, with Assistant Professor of Architecture Paz Gutierrez serving as principal investigator — the only architect in the nation to lead an EFRISEED project.1

Figure 1: Architecture collaboration diagrams: left, traditional multidisciplinary environmental building systems collaborations; right, emerging interdisciplinary environmental building systems. (Source: BIOMSgroup, UC Berkeley, 2008.)
Figure 1 Enlarge [+]Architecture collaboration diagrams: left, traditional multidisciplinary environmental building systems collaborations; right, emerging interdisciplinary environmental building systems. (Source: BIOMSgroup, UC Berkeley, 2008.)

With this major grant, the BIOMSgroup (Bio Input Onto Material Systems;, established at UC Berkeley in 2008 by Professor Gutierrez, is poised to develop new models of interdisciplinary research centered on the design of multifunctional material technologies (see figure 2).2 These technologies hold the potential to introduce pioneering methods to capture, redirect, and transfer energy; to resource water supplies; and to process waste based on micro-engineering principles. BIOMSgroup is developing two other projects that center new methods to resource resources. The Self-Activated Building Envelope Regulation System (SABERS) is also supported by NSF and was developed by Gutierrez in collaboration with bio-engineer Luke Lee to establish a new self-regulated membrane for hygrothermal and light transmission control.3 The membrane is designed for emergency deployable housing in tropical regions with the purpose of decreasing energy use for spatial conditioning through controlling ventilation rates. An integrated array of reactive polymers that mechanically adapt to variable light, heat, and humidity indexes enables higher or lower ventilation rates while interacting with an internal dehumidification membrane. As with all BIOMS projects, research is developed from its inception through interdisciplinary collaborations that design building systems from the meter scale to the nanoscale (see figure 3). Another example of BIOMS multiscale research is the Detox Towers project,4 currently in the early phase of development (see figure 4), which explores a new phytoremediation building system for indoor air detoxification and humidity control through active use of microorganisms (algae/lichen).

Figure 2: Schematic overview of Solar Optics-Based Active Panels (SOAP) for Greywater Reuse and Integrated Thermal (GRIT) Building Control Wall System by Gutierrez, Hermanovicz, and Lee at UC Berkeley. Left, application to variable building geometries; center, solar microlenses panel and flow redistribution schematic section perspective; right, detail view of microlens wall and titanium dioxide coated hydrogels. (NSF Award — EFRI-1038279.)
Figure 2 Enlarge [+]Schematic overview of Solar Optics-Based Active Panels (SOAP) for Greywater Reuse and Integrated Thermal (GRIT) Building Control Wall System by Gutierrez, Hermanovicz, and Lee at UC Berkeley. Left, application to variable building geometries; center, solar microlenses panel and flow redistribution schematic section perspective; right, detail view of microlens wall and titanium dioxide coated hydrogels. (NSF Award — EFRI-1038279.)
Figure 3: Multiscale schematic overview of biologically inspired Self-Activated Building Envelope Regulation System (SABERS) interdisciplinary research project, Gutierrez and Lee at UC Berkeley. (NSF Award — CMMI-1030027.)
Figure 3 Enlarge [+]Multiscale schematic overview of biologically inspired Self-Activated Building Envelope Regulation System (SABERS) interdisciplinary research project, Gutierrez and Lee at UC Berkeley. (NSF Award — CMMI-1030027.)
Figure 4: Detox Towers project by BIOMSgroup/Gutierrez at UC Berkeley (finalist, Evolo 2011 Skyscraper International Competition). Left, tower parametric data analysis of convergence of direct solar and particulate matter; top center, adaptive structural system parametric analysis (image developed by John Faichney); top right, urban particulate matter concentrations and nitrous oxide and methane distributions synthesis diagram (image developed by Kylie Han); bottom, detoxification building system from meter to nanometer scale. (BIOMSgroup 2010 team (Kylie Han, John Faichney, Plamena Milusheva, Brian Grieb).)
Figure 4 Enlarge [+]Detox Towers project by BIOMSgroup/Gutierrez at UC Berkeley (finalist, Evolo 2011 Skyscraper International Competition).4 Left, tower parametric data analysis of convergence of direct solar and particulate matter; top center, adaptive structural system parametric analysis (image developed by John Faichney); top right, urban particulate matter concentrations and nitrous oxide and methane distributions synthesis diagram (image developed by Kylie Han); bottom, detoxification building system from meter to nanometer scale. (BIOMSgroup 2010 team (Kylie Han, John Faichney, Plamena Milusheva, Brian Grieb).)

Multifunctional Materials and Microscale Processes

The desire to selectively concentrate energy and recycle water through multifunctional building systems, interdependently across scales, led the team to conceptualize an integrated wall that links greywater regeneration to thermal control, based on micro-optics. This idea was the basis for the design of Solar Optics-Based Active Panels for Greywater Reuse and Integrated Thermal Building Control (or, as it is fondly termed, SOAP for GRIT). From early on, the challenge was to establish new solar-based technologies for light and heat flow transmission/conduction based on micro-optics and micro-fluidics that improve on greywater recycling technologies that use thicker, heavier, and often-pricey mechanical lenses or tubular systems. Through high-precision microlenses that control ultraviolent light exposure,56 the new system can work in any building form without the need for complicated mechanical infrastructures that follow sunlight paths.

Advancing methods of solar greywater recycling,7 particularly for urban, higher-density buildings, creates the opportunity to use greywater to its fullest potential before it leaves the building.8 By incorporating greywater into closed-loop building technologies, SOAP for GRIT can contribute significantly to water conservation through the use of sunlight concentration and transmission control based on micro-optics. The proposed new technology is more sustainable9 and cost-efficient, making it more feasible for real-world architectural applications. Solar-activated panels can significantly reduce space-conditioning costs, which in the average American home account for over 50 percent of energy use.10

Collaborative Scientific Research and Design Pedagogy

Teaching design students about how to use technology to maximize building performance is central to architectural education. Inventive, research-based design is critical to move the field forward while maintaining a necessary focus on the larger historical, social, political, and economic contexts of architecture. Teaching today’s design students thus involves exacting training programs that require rigorous science but that also recognize that technology is not a stand-alone solution to the pressing challenges of environmental design. From implementing biosynthesis of live and inert matter (see figure 5), to producing a self-regulated membrane for humidification in the Atacama Desert in Chile (see figure 6)11, Gutierrez’s architecture students venture into new methods to transfer and process resources.

BIOMSgroup’s projects aim to establish fundamental environmental design research that opens new frontiers to resourcing resources through self-activated matter based on microscale efficiency. Self-activated matter can matter.

Figure 5: First prize, 2008 SHIFT 2x8 Student Competition, AIA Los Angeles Chapter; project developed by Joe Pang, March 2009, for the seminar Material Bio-Intelligibility (Gutierrez, fall 2008).
Figure 5 Enlarge [+]First prize, 2008 SHIFT 2×8 Student Competition, AIA Los Angeles Chapter; project developed by Joe Pang, March 2009, for the seminar Material Bio-Intelligibility (Gutierrez, fall 2008).
Figure 6: First prize, 2009 Blue Award Competition, University of Vienna, Austria. Professor Paz Gutierrez, supervisor; Lan Hu, M.Arch. ‘10; Jungmin An, M.Arch. ‘10. (Gutierrez studio, spring 2009.)
Figure 6 Enlarge [+]First prize, 2009 Blue Award Competition, University of Vienna, Austria. Professor Paz Gutierrez, supervisor; Lan Hu, M.Arch. ‘10; Jungmin An, M.Arch. ‘10. (Gutierrez studio, spring 2009.)10

Support for this research from the National Science Foundation (EFRI-1038279 and CMMI-1030027) and the Hellman Faculty Award is gratefully acknowledged.


  • 1., accessed April 14, 2011.
  • 2. Maria-Paz Gutierrez, “Silicon + Skin: Biological Processes and Computation,” in Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, eds. A. Kudless, N. Oxman, and M. Swackhamer (Minneapolis: ACADIA, 2008), 278-85.
  • 3., accessed April 17, 2011.
  • 4., accessed April 14, 2011.
  • 5. L.P. Lee and R. Szema, “Inspirations from Biological Optics for Advanced Photonic Systems,” Science 310 (2005):1148-50.
  • 6. Jaeyoun Kim, Ki-Hun Jeong, and Luke P. Lee, “Artificial Ommatidia by Self-Aligned Microlenses and Waveguides,” Optics Letters 30 (2005): 5-7.
  • 7. C. Sordo et al., “Solar Photocatalytic Disinfection with Immobilized TiO2 at Pilot-Plant Scale,” Water Science and Technology 61 (2010): 507-512.
  • 8. M. Brennan and R. Patterson, “Economic Analysis of Freywater Recycling,” in Proceedings from 1st International Conference on Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Recycling (Perth, Australia: Environmental Technology Centre, Mundoch University, 2004), 3-9.
  • 9. S.W. Hermanowicz, “Sustainability in Water Resources Management — Changes in Meaning and Perception,” Sustainability Science 3 (2008):181-88.
  • 10. J. Kelso, “2005 Delivered Energy End-Uses for an Average Household, by Region (Million BTU per Household),” in Buildings Energy Databook (Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 2008), 76.
  • 11. Blue Award 2009,, accessed January 20, 2011.

Simulating Urban Place: The Importance of Experience

The College of Environmental Design was founded in the belief that the design of buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes and regions should be genuinely concerned with the conditions of all humans and be relatively free from doctrine of any persuasion.

It was possible for such a humanistic tradition to emerge because those who founded the college held a commitment to an integrated view of education and had a high tolerance for each other’s approaches. With the exception of Catherine Bauer, the founding members were raised locally and rooted in the Bay Area experience: William Wurster had his roots in Stockton , T. J. Kent and Fran Violich grew up in San Francisco, Vernon DeMars in Oakland and Garrett Eckbo in Alameda; after an exposure to East Coast schools all embraced modern architecture’s social agenda. They practiced regionally; several of them worked prominently in the field of low-income housing, others, as founders of Telesis in 1939 and motivated by an appreciation for the Bay Area’s exceptional beauty, reacted against the mindless urban development that accelerated in the decades after WWII. As mentors they pointed out that no matter the size of an individual designer’s contribution, it was possible to act intelligently with an eye on the larger environmental, social and political context.

In the 1960s, the college attracted a large number of faculty members from further afield, especially in the field of urban planning and design. Donald Appleyard, who came from MIT together with Roger Montgomery, who came from Washington University in Saint Louis, both started to offer an interdisciplinary urban design curriculum to graduate students from all three departments.

Urban design as a tie between the three departments became the college’s hallmark and over the last four decades a group of urban designers with roots in design practice shared an interest in research and teaching that led to a normative stance, emphasizing more the prescriptive, “what should be,” and less the descriptive, reflective mode, emphasizing the “what is.” The colleagues I am thinking of include Don Logan, Dan Solomon, Christopher Alexander, Clare Cooper Marcus, and Sam Davis, who taught at Berkeley when I joined in 1976. Allan Jacobs came to Berkeley at about the same time. During Richard Bender’s time as CED Dean, Donlyn Lyndon, Randy Hester, Michael Southworth, Elizabeth Deakin and Linda Jewell joined; Nezar Alsayyad came to the faculty after he completed his PhD with Spiro Kostov; René Davids and Renée Chow, Louise Mozingo and Walter Hood joined during Roger Montgomery’s tenure as Dean. Mark Anderson, Elizabeth MacDonald, Nicholas de Monchaux, Paz Gutierez, Karl Kuhlmann and Ron Rael are the most recent members of the faculty with a dedication to urban design.

A comparison of urban vitality in Los Angeles, Shanghai and Mumbai
Figure 1 Enlarge [+]Cities in the Laboratory, a conceptual view: A comparison of urban vitality in Los Angeles, Shanghai and Mumbai, measured here per unit of surface area, Venice Biennale, 2006.

Academic groups need jolters. Peter Hall jolted the group saying that increasingly the form of urban regions would need to be studied; Manuel Castells pointed the group towards a major shift in how society uses space. The information age had changed how people interact socially at all levels. Two decades earlier Mel Webber jolted the members of the group with his thesis that local place was growing less important as society was becoming more and more placeless. The polemics of the discussion made students in the simulation laboratory work on a film Webberville versus Applelandia. In one community, the curtains are drawn to keep out the glare as residents communicate with their peers in faraway places; in the other community, the residents erect barricades in the streets to protect against traffic, environmental degradation and for greater social justice.

Not unique to Berkeley, there still exists a healthy tension between those who view material space relative to socioeconomic dimensions and those who view the experience of place as an inspiration for design. It is therefore important to reflect on the power of direct experience, and the power of abstractions as something that education can bridge. If more bridges between the two modes of thinking, planning and design can be made, the college can confidently face the next 50 years.

The proposed Citti di Porta Nova, Milan
Figure 2 Enlarge [+]Cities in the Laboratory, a perceptual view: The proposed Citti di Porta Nova, Milan. (Bosselmann/Urban Simulation Laboratory, Polimi).

The Environmental Simulation Laboratory, founded in 1972 by Appleyard, provides such a bridge. Ahead of its time, it was built on the premise that it is possible to bring parts of the city into a laboratory in order to experiment with changes to urban form. Throughout history and across disciplines simulations have been used to forecast conditions that might become reality. The applications of simulations are broad and have grown in engineering, design and planning as well as navigational training, medicine and education. Fundamentally, two types of simulations are possible: existing and future urban conditions can be explained as concepts or as experiences. When computational techniques became available in the 1970s, conceptual simulations received a major boost. A decade later, with the advent of digital image processing, the sensory or perceptional forms of simulations advanced. By now, animations, virtual walks or drives through photorealistic settings have become commonplace. But with such advancements it is important to remember that simulations remain abstractions of reality. What is selected from reality, and what is left out, can significantly influence the outcome of simulations, thus the future form of cities.

Milan skyline
Figure 3 Enlarge [+]View from the roof of the Duomo in Milan towards the Alps. The cupola of the Galleria is in the front to the left.
Milan skyline
Figure 4 Enlarge [+]Understanding changes to Milan’s traditionally horizontal skyline. (Bosselmann/Urban Simulation Laboratory, Polimi).

Will the simulated world behave in very much the same manner as the real world? The answer to this question is important for urban designers, who use simulations to explore the implications of policy on the form of cities. If response equivalence between simulated and real world experiences cannot be guaranteed, simulations would have no credibility, could be misleading and should not be used in decision making processes. Knowledge about response equivalence falls into the realm of psychology. Kenneth Craik, one of the pioneers in the field of environmental psychology, collaborated with Appleyard in the early years to measure people’s responses to simulated scenes and compare them to responses after an experience of the real world. Answers to the equivalence question involved a large scale validation project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Residents and nonresidents were randomly selected to tour a suburban environment complete with shopping centers and office parks, followed by the screening of a virtual drive through the same area. Some subjects saw one and not the other, some saw both in the sequence described or vice versa. The experiment concluded that simulations can be surrogates of a real world experience. This meant, ideally, that the simulations should not be presented in static form, but as dynamic animations, produced in a manner that comes close to human experience, moving through space and time. The experiment also acknowledged that subjects who were unfamiliar with the setting reported close to equivalent experiences after the real world tour and after watching a tour of a virtual, simulated world, or vice versa. But for subjects familiar with the real setting, the equivalence of the two experiences was not as strong. For them the real world setting had social meaning that could not readily be simulated. Thus the validation experiment touched upon findings made about the same time, first in geography and later in the field of psychology, claiming that place in cities, neighborhoods and landscapes takes on meaning based upon people’s memory, attachment and dependencies.

Figure 5 Enlarge [+]Left: Judging the correct size of buildings: to see the tower in true dimensions the human eyes create nine distinct perspectives (Bosselmann/Urban Simulation Laboratory, Polimi); Right: Alternatively, additional references are needed to judge the dimensions of the tower. (Bosselmann/Urban Simulation Laboratory, Polimi).
3D GIS model
Figure 6 Enlarge [+]The 3D GIS model that made the Milan simulations possible. (Bosselmann/Urban Simulation Laboratory, Polimi).

The validation project also confirmed a number of earlier theories, first J.J. Gibson’s ecological theory that reminds us of perception’s dynamic process, which operates under constantly changing conditions and frequently in motion over time. As well as Egon Brunswik’s probabilistic theory: The observer builds up a repertoire of probabilities that provides likely conclusions by combining trustworthy clues to give an educated guess about the true nature of a situation or place.

Admittedly, for the everyday user of simulations, perceptional theories would be of limited use, if it were not for the fact that simulations are produced in a highly politicized milieu. Change in cities will always be associated with controversy. Especially when large projects are considered, proponents and opponents rival for public attention, appeal to decision makers and will treat information about change selectively, emphasizing its benefits or detriments depending on who is preparing the case. For an outsider, the credibility gap appears obvious and the difference in the portrayal of the real and the imagined can at times be comical, but for the actors involved the matter is deadly serious, because much can be at stake. Therefore, anybody interested in reducing the credibility gap for the benefit of a more open debate would call for a special commitment among those who produce simulations. Simulations should be representative of the changes that a new project will impose on the conditions that exist and on possible future conditions — ideally, they should consider cumulative change — without exaggerating or diminishing the impacts of change. The modeling should be open to accuracy tests. Realistically, such work could not be expected from proponents or from opponents, but could only be performed by individuals outside the controversy, for example, at research universities.

San Francisco skyline showing potential development
Figure 7 Enlarge [+]San Francisco skyline (Bosselmann/Urban Explorer) with 2004/5 entitlements and potential development under current planning controls; existing skyline, 2008, plus the proposed Transit Tower (Bosselmann/Yon Te Kim).

Modeled after the Berkeley lab, several such laboratories have emerged. For example, in the 1990s the Berkeley laboratory became the model for laboratories at Keio and at Waseda Universities in Tokyo. Here the rationale was developed for exemption from national planning law and introduction of special area planning controls for several Tokyo neighborhoods, including the famous Ginza district; earlier in the 1980s, a new laboratory in New York shaped regulations for Times Square, Television City, the Upper East Side and for West Way. The latest of this type of simulation laboratories was built in 2007 at the Milan Polytechnic with the purpose of examining the insertion of large scale projects into the still largely horizontal cityscape. In these laboratories, simulations are made to support the process of reasoning; modeling turns an abstract idea and transforms it towards the realm of the concrete. Not yet reality, but through simulations urban form and the associated conditions become more understandable. Models allow for greater clarity, and simulations are useful for explaining urban conditions to those who may not otherwise understand the implications of decision-making, such as politicians, community representatives, and the news media — thus the public at large. Simulations alone cannot claim to deliver judgment about good performance, fit or compatibility; the evaluators will make such judgments, but simulations make possible an open, public discussion among evaluators about the magnitude, pace and nature of change, its perceived degree of faithfulness to a recognized tradition — authenticity — or, a conscious break with tradition — a new beginning.

New York City, Times Square, 1985
Figure 8 Enlarge [+]New York City, Times Square, 1985: Simulating allowable building heights and signage control.

With the advent of Geographic Information Systems, perceptual simulation can be combined with spatially referenced data. For example, the attempt by the San Francisco business community to find sufficient land to accommodate 10 million square feet of additional office space is such an abstraction. The Berkeley Simulation Laboratory has a 30-year tradition to show whether and how that much floor space will fit into what is already there. Many contemporary examples for simulation applications come to mind. In California, as population grows, we need to simulate a type of community that is designed to reduce green house gasses consistent with Senate Bill 375.

San Francisco Bay Area, the Randstad in Holland, Hong Kong, and Milan
Figure 9 Clockwise from top left: Simulating population density: four metropolitan areas with seven million inhabitants, San Francisco Bay Area, the Randstad in Holland, Hong Kong, and Milan.

Simulation is a bridge between concept and experience. At the CED we are in the process of opening a new bridge to visualize spatial data at the metropolitan scale. We are calling this new type of laboratory a Global Metropolitan Observatory. It originated out of a strategic initiative proposed to the Chancellor when the faculty were asked to brainstorm about the contribution Berkeley could make to solving the most urgent problems of the new millennium. Our response was a study center with the focus on sustainable metropolitan form. The new observatory will continue Berkeley’s tradition. It speaks to the strength of an educational tradition, when it is carried on by others, when it evolves and when it resonates in professional cultures different from those places where it originated.

The Ginza District under examination at the Tokyo Simulation Laboratory
Figure 10 Enlarge [+]The Ginza District under examination at the Tokyo Simulation Laboratory (Academy Hills, Roppongi).

CED Update

Anniversaries prompt us to reflect on our past, but they also have a way of enticing us to think about our future. Arriving in time for CED’s 50th anniversary allowed me, as the new dean, to become quickly immersed in the college’s history and people, and begin to build on our legacy and traditions to sketch out future directions. Big plans are now underway, with respect to academic programs, research, and enhancements to Wurster Hall to better serve our evolving needs. Let me share them with you.

— Jennifer Wolch

Reconstruction of the bench that originally graced North Gate Hall (The Old Ark)
Using fragments left from the original bench as well as archival photographs and personal memory, Caitlin Lempres Brostrom (M.Arch 1990) and her father, Van Maren King (B.Arch 1964) developed measured drawings for the reconstruction of the bench that originally graced North Gate Hall (The Old Ark). The bench represents a piece of the folklore of the Department of Architecture. It also represents a symbol of the community that William Wurster forged when he brought four disciplines together and made the, then new, College of Environmental Design. Caitlin and her husband, Nathan Brostrom (Vice President, University of California) funded the project envisioning it as a symbol of community and continuity. The bench was made last summer entirely from reclaimed redwood timbers and was built by an undergraduate student, Chris Lesnett, with the mentorship of Paul Morrison in Wurster Hall’s shop.
From left to right: Harrison Fraker, Mario Schjetnan, Jennifer Wolch, Clare Cooper Marcus, Sir Peter Hall, Dell Upton, Carol Galante, Richard Bender, Michael Teitz, Ray Kappe, Russell Ellis. (Photo: Eric Gillet)


Sustainable Urbanism and Design. More and more of our students clamor for the intellectual understanding and technical tools needed to build new or transform existing cities and buildings to achieve critical sustainability goals. In response, the College is designing a new college-wide undergraduate major on Sustainable Urbanism and Design that we hope will serve students interested in building science, resource efficient landscape architecture and design, and sustainable city planning.

Summer [In]stitutes. CED has launched the Berkeley Summer [In]stitutes for post-baccalaureate students interested in environmental design careers. During three [In]stitutes — [In]Arch, [In]City, and [In]Land — over 200 students will convene at Wurster for 2 months of intensive study, emerging at the end of the experience with an understanding of the fields and a real live portfolio for graduate school.

Wurster Design & Innovation Studio. With colleagues from the Haas School of Business, and others across campus, CED has established a pilot studio on the 5th Floor of Wurster Hall, to jump-start a program in “Design Thinking” — the collaborative, interdisciplinary practice that many of us are familiar with, and that is increasingly vital to crafting new business concepts, innovative products, social ventures, communications strategies, and urban places in a rapidly changing world. Work started this Spring semester, with faculty and students creating a space for planning, sketching, project reviews, and coaching. We plan to offer short-courses, encourage start-up ventures and green product development, and make the Wurster Design & Innovation Studio accessible to collaborative projects.

Cool New Minors. In response to the fact that courses on geographic information systems, remote sensing, spatial statistics, and related technologies are scattered across campus, we have collaborated with several schools and colleges to develop a new undergraduate minor and graduate emphasis in Geospatial Data, Science and Technology. This will allow us to meet the burgeoning demand for GIS, and permit faculty to teach more advanced courses. And, in partnership with others on campus — in materials science, biotechnology, and elsewhere — we plan to establish a new undergraduate minor in Biomimetic Design, with guidance from the Biomimicry Institute, whose founder Janine Benyus was just named one of the world’s 27 most influential designers. This minor will introduce students to the way in which understanding natural process, materials, and architectures can be harnessed to revolutionize the way we construct buildings and the built environment.

Green Design and Finance. With the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the Haas School of Business, CED is creating executive education programs on financing green design for real estate finance, construction, engineering, and environmental design industry professionals. The emphasis will be on how real estate finance firms can make the business case for incorporating energy efficient designs, especially for retrofits.

Carmel Friesen and Jennifer Wolch at the CAA Charter Gala
Carmel “Candy” Friesen and Jennifer Wolch at the CAA Charter Gala on April 24, 2010 at the San Francisco Ferry Building.
CAA Excellence in Achievement Award is presented to Carol Galante; CAA Excellence in Service Award is presented to Carmel Friesen
Left: CAA Excellence in Achievement Award is presented to Carol Galante, M.C.P. ’78, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multifamily Housing Programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Right: CAA Excellence in Service Award is presented to Carmel “Candy” Friesen ’50, Founder of the Carmel P. Friesen Chair in Urban Studies at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design.


Two new research centers have been established over the past year. The Center for a Sustainable California, led by Professor Robert Cervero, is initially focusing on the implications of California’s landmark law SB 375. This legislation requires localities to create land-use and transportation plans that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Center seeks to understand how local governments are responding to this challenge. The Center for Resource Efficient Cities, led by Professor Louise Mozingo, is a partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and funded by the California Energy Commission. The Center conducts research on how to design urban communities to reduce automobile trips, cool the urban heat island, infiltrate urban runoff and recharge groundwater.

Room 101 renovation
Room 101 is renovated and fully equipped with a new AV system, new comfortable tablet-arm chairs as well as an architectural installation of construction materials. The wall of materials is an educational tool for inspiring young designers. Architect Anne Fougeron and her staff redesigned what was an utterly outmoded and depressing space, transforming it into a contemporary classroom space the students and faculty have enjoyed this semester and will enjoy for years to come. (Photos: Eric Gillet)
Room 101 renovation
Room 101 is renovated and fully equipped with a new AV system, new comfortable tablet-arm chairs as well as an architectural installation of construction materials. The wall of materials is an educational tool for inspiring young designers. Architect Anne Fougeron and her staff redesigned what was an utterly outmoded and depressing space, transforming it into a contemporary classroom space the students and faculty have enjoyed this semester and will enjoy for years to come. (Photos: Eric Gillet)

Wurster Hall Updates

Wurster Hall got an anniversary present: a renovated CED Auditorium. Building on Stanley Saitowitz’ original design, the Auditorium was newly carpeted and got a fresh coat of paint, advanced audiovisual equipment was installed along with new lights, and the room was furnished with comfortable new tablet arm chairs. Moreover, other classroom space got some great upgrades, especially Room 101, which was remodeled tip-to-toe, due to the generosity of a CED donor. Maintaining Wurster’s industrial feel, the classroom boasts a wall-mounted display of building materials, high-technology computer technology, bright new seating, and energy-efficient globe lighting. Our fabrication facility — designed by James Prestini many years ago — is also being redesigned with the help of EHDD Architecture and Anderson and Anderson Architecture, to integrate the CAD/CAM equipment that is now so critical to the ability of our students to learn digital design and advanced fabrication techniques. And lastly, we are creating the first permanent exhibit space for the college — a 2,200 square foot space on the first floor, where we can have major exhibits, installations, and ongoing student juries. Fougeron Architecture has done the preliminary design. So look out for an invitation to the opening of the CED Gallery!

Rendering of New Wurster Hall Gallery
Rendering of New Wurster Hall Gallery by Fougeron Architecture.
CED Dean Jennifer Wolch thanks Cynthia and Norm Dyer
During a visit to Wurster Hall, CED Dean Jennifer Wolch thanks Cynthia (’58) and Norm Dyer (M.Arch. ’59) for their planned gift towards an undergraduate scholarship in Architecture.

It is especially gratifying to me, in my first year as dean, to have met so many of our alumni and supporters. I commend you for your regular attendance at events, generous support of the college and quick response to our requests. Like you, I am amazed at the energy, purpose, and sheer brilliance of our students. I am also deeply impressed by the commitment of my faculty colleagues to their teaching and research and continually heartened by the expertise, creativity, and loyalty of the CED staff. We are all committed to the same purpose — the welfare of CED and its ideals, and to the greater good of public education in California.

A Call for New Ruralism

New Ruralism is a framework for creating a bridge between Sustainable Agriculture and New Urbanism. Sustainable agriculture can help bring cities down to earth, to a deeper commitment to the ecology and economy of the surrounding countryside on which they depend.


New Ruralism embraces the power of place-making that can help American agriculture move from an artificially narrow production focus to encompass broader resource preservation values. As a place-based and systems-based framework, the New Ruralism nurtures the symbiotic relationship between urban and rural areas. To build this bridge, the Institute of Urban & Regional Development (IURD) and Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE) are jointly launching a project on New Ruralism.

The Rationale for New Ruralism

To thrive and endure, regions and the cities within them need a vital local agricultural system that encompasses individual farms, rural communities, and stewardship of natural resources. As it stands, rural areas – especially those at the urban edge – face enormous challenges. In California, as in many parts of the developed world, agricultural operations near cities are under extreme pressure from suburbanization, environmental degradation, and an industrialized and globalized farm economy. Urban areas are contending with the flip side of this problem: the multiple costs of sprawl and a national crisis of health problems related to diet, exercise, and the built environment. Too many urban residents are increasingly overfed and undernourished. They are disconnected from rural and natural surroundings that further recede with increasing low-density auto-dependent urbanization. In many ways, industrialized agriculture and urban sprawl are similar blights, both operating with little regard to the natural conditions of the landscape and oblivious to the ecological and cultural uniqueness of place.

New Ruralism is built on twenty years of reform – in food, agriculture, and land use planning. The sustainable agriculture and local food systems movements have taken organic foods mainstream, made farmers’ markets a basic town-center amenity, and put “slow food” on a fast track. At the same time, New Urbanism projects and Smart Growth initiatives have demonstrated the possibilities of creating healthier, more livable urban centers. Communities large and small are utilizing smart growth tools to create mixed use, pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented developments; to encourage infill, revitalize downtowns, institute ‘green’ building policies, and better balance the growth of jobs and housing. New Urbanism acknowledges farmland and nature to be as “important to the metropolis as the garden is the house”. Yet approaches for strengthening the vitality of surrounding rural areas as a means to contain and sustain cities have not been thoroughly investigated. In many ways, New Ruralism is now where New Urbanism and Smart Growth were two decades ago – powerful ideas that were being generated mostly by professionals, out of sight of public and academic views.


kraus_3Just as New Urbanists and ‘critical regionalists’ have articulated and demonstrated the potential for a renewed movement of place-affirming urban planning, our regional rural areas need a similar call to action. We are positing New Ruralism as a corollary of New Urbanism with a related framework of principles, policies, and practices, and with the following as its preliminary vision statement:

New Ruralism is the preservation and enhancement of urban edge rural areas as places that are indispensable to the economic, environmental, and cultural vitality of cities and metropolitan regions.

New Ruralism draws from past models. Some obvious examples are the agrarian context for the ‘Garden City’ and the self-sufficiency elements of eco-villages. New Ruralism also incorporates current initiatives, such as sustainable city charters, local food policy councils, the agricultural land trust movement, and mechanisms to preserve and enhance regional agriculture and its natural resource base. Most importantly, New Ruralism can harness marketplace forces such as demand for rural lifestyle, countryside view, and food with ‘terroir’ (a taste of place).

The geography for New Ruralism can be generally defined as rural lands within urban influence; the larger the metropolis, the larger the field of influence. The geographical structure of metropolitan regions extends out from the urban-rural interface and the rural-urban fringe to exurbia and beyond, to urban-influenced farmland. It is too often a contested landscape of transitional land uses, speculative land values, regulatory uncertainty, and impermanent agriculture. The current default attitude in this area is that metropolitan agriculture inevitably dissolves and retreats as the urban footprint expands.

Within this field of urban influence, the New Ruralism movement would help create permanent agricultural preserves as sources of fresh food for the larger urban region, and as places for nurturing urban connections with the land. These could take the form of green food belt perimeters, buffers between urban areas, small agricultural parks at the urban-rural interface, or bigger preserves further a-field that include larger farms and rural settlements. This vision must work hand in hand with the New Urbanism vision of compact mixed-use urbanized areas, the elimination of low-density auto-dependent sprawl, and distinct “edges” between towns and their surrounding rural working lands.


kraus_4These ideas for a vision and geography for New Ruralism provide a starting point for some preliminary principles.

New Ruralism would denote specific, named rural places located near an urban area and part of a broader metropolitan region. Such New Ruralist places would have an identity rooted in their unique and significant agricultural, ecological, geographical, and cultural attributes. This identity would contribute to a broader regional sense of place, through local farm products, rural activities, iconic landscape, and opportunities for public experience. These rural places may also have general designations as agricultural preserves or ‘appellations’ or ‘local food belts’.

The primary land use would be small to medium scale sustainable agriculture integrated and overlapping with areas for wildlife and habitat management and for passive recreation. Conducive agronomic conditions and agricultural history would be primary factors determining the location of such agricultural preserves. Other factors would include dedicated current farmers and identified aspiring farmers; crops and livestock distinctive to the place; processing and marketing infrastructure; affordable housing on farms or in nearby communities for farm employees; and regulations supportive of value-added enterprises and agritourism operations. The ‘Wild Farm’ movement demonstrates the potential value of this kind of multifunctional agriculture.

Urban-rural connectivity would be a multi-faceted exchange. A major linkage would be in the form of ‘locally grown food’, promoted through direct marketing channels and through institutional networks. ‘Local food-shed’ is an attribute ripe for quantification and even certification, due to its value-added connotation of fresh, healthy and flavorful food and its potential for public access and interaction. (Such a place-based designation has long been used for wines and is now being used for crops tied to place and method of production.) Connectivity would also take the form of physical links to urban green spaces and to regional hiking, equestrian, and biking trail systems. Another linkage is the arena of environmental services. Services such as green waste composting, aquifer recharge, flood and fire protection, and preservation of biodiversity would be part of the urban-rural economic exchange and would help re-establish the value of the ecological structures that underlie the jurisdictional patchwork.

New Ruralist agricultural preserves would welcome the public as both visitors and residents. One of the highest values of rural areas near cities is their attraction as homesites for people who are not farmers. With careful planning, this bane can be a boon. Affirmative agriculture easements and projects such as Vineyard Estates in Livermore and the Qroe[1] model in New England demonstrate the potential for successful symbiosis of estate homes with agriculture, as valued landscape. However, the benefits of country life should not be limited to the wealthy. Following both the demand for ‘rural lifestyle’ and the trend for the ‘not-so-big-house’, clustered, modest non-farm rural home homesites have the potential to be a key value proposition for preserving agricultural land, especially if they are strictly limited and their value is tied in to the local agricultural economy. Perhaps these homeowners can purchase a “share” of the farm production along with their modest dwellings.

The development and management of each agricultural preserve would be guided by a comprehensive plan. Such a plan could be established and implemented as a join powers agreement between city and county agencies where necessary. Broader regulations and incentives would likely also come into play. The key to establishing rural places reflecting metropolitan regional values is a holistic approach that integrates a wide range of goals for public health, conservation, economic development, housing, agricultural productivity, and more. Within a template framework, each plan might also have specific quantified objectives, such as goals for local food production or local jobs or educational programs. Through these plans, New Ruralist places would capture and compensate landowners for specific “public good” amenities provided for the local town or broader metropolitan region.

In summary, these ideas for a New Ruralism vision and principles are exploratory, intended to provoke discussion and response. Key questions are:

  • How can the concept of New Ruralism be most useful for advancing the common goals of sustainable agriculture/local food systems movement and the new urbanism/smart growth movement?
  • Does New Ruralism provide a meaningful framework for analyzing past models and present initiatives for harmonizing city and countryside?
  • What are the key elements required for it to succeed and what long term benefits would accrue from these successes?
  • Can New Ruralism be applied as a construct in actual planning projects and be advanced into governmental regulations?
  • Can a New Ruralist vision, illuminated by key models, help galvanize the public support and private investment necessary to create urban edge agricultural preserves?

During the coming months, through workshops and white papers, IURD and SAGE plan to continue to explore these and other questions. We welcome your thoughts on our preliminary ideas.

[1] The Qroe Company develops and manages real estate properties that integrate conservation, farming and housing.