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College of Architecture and Planning University of Colorado Denver

College of Architecture & Planning

Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism


The Center for Sustainable Urbanism addresses some of the most vexing challenges that confront urban places and their larger regions the world over.  Urban is a complex geographical niche, home to perhaps half the world’s population.  By mid-Century two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities.  This niche is composed of denser habitats ranging from small and often informally constituted places all the way up the spatial scale to metropolitan areas which today house 80% of the U.S. population, and beyond to megapolitan agglomerations, of which there are perhaps ten in the United States.  The larger of these megapolitan places rise to the status of “mega cities” that, like celestial black holes, absorb all within their reach, blanketing the landscape in a formless mélange of irregular densities.  There are today over thirty of these worldwide, and eight-in-ten of these mega cities reside in developing nations where weak economies engender inadequate infrastructures unable adequately to process waste, deliver potable water, encourage clean air, or sustain livelihoods.

Urbanism is the way of life in cities.  It is composed of the multiple accommodations that arise from a perpetual search for means to fit life and livelihoods to both the built environment and the larger natural environments that urban places inhabit and affect. Arising from the pursuit is an accumulation of both individual and collective practices, institutional arrangements, and supporting technologies that yield the form and content of the built environment and all that goes on within it.   If the old adage “what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas” were ever true it no longer is.  London, it is estimated, requires an area 60 times larger merely to service its demand for food and forest products.  Cities in resource-poor regions negotiate their raw materials inputs across increasingly expansive spaces magnifying their footprints many times over, and seldom fully compensating supply regions for attendant environmental losses. 

If urbanism is the envelope of activities that exist, then sustainable urbanism is urbanism that can persist. Much is made today of the “Triple Bottom Line (TBL)”.  This is a prescription for the evaluation of alternative courses of action in both corporate and public sector management and planning.  “Profit” is of course a prime corporate driver whereas the public sector pursues broader social purposes.  Yet the TBL perspective would add to the decision matrix in both contexts the consideration of side-effects—externalities—that bear on sustainability’s three dimensions of outcome: environmental, economic and ethical.  These externalities, of course, are un-priced consequences.  Though often not explicitly intended, they are uniformly unaccounted.  As a result they are only infrequently taken into account as development decisions are made. 

Sustainability calls for something considerably more than business as usual in our towns and cities.  At root it calls for a broader definition of the “client” who is served by actions undertaken that shape cities and manage city functions.  The new client, so redefined, encompasses all people, places and sectors whose welfare is influenced as development proceeds and policies are implemented.  We must, we believe, reach beyond the narrow calculus of individual profit to consider effects arising from our actions that traverse wider spaces (political and economic spillovers as well as life-cycle effects involved in materials usage), and that reach well beyond the life span of current inhabitants.  Of course, representing the concerns of non-locals and un-born generations is exceedingly difficult.

This Center, in its fullest expression, carries out research and related design explorations.  These address four sorts of topics:

• The evolution of urban environs and their impacts upon the local/global ecosystem,

• Alternate forms of cities and larger urban regions and the practices and institutional arrangements within them that would constitute a more sustainable urbanism,

• Means for intervention able to encourage a more sustainable urban future, and

• Evaluation of the effectiveness of our prescriptions for achieving this more sustainable urban future.

The Center also engages in project-based services for communities and regions in order to deepen the stocks of evidence and experience on which our research and related creative activities rely.

And finally, the Center aims to build societal capacities for a more sustainable form of urbanism through professional and public education.   

For information, contact the Director: Dr. Thomas Clark, 303-556-3296,

Guiding Principles

A. College-wide Reach:

  • Each design and planning discipline has a role to play. 
  • All College Centers must be mutually supportive, as divisions of labor among them emerge.  Each of the College’s constituent disciplines addresses critical themes in this collective pursuit (click here).

B.  The Big Tent:

  • Our College’s intellectual domain is the built environment, the natural places within these built environs, and the interaction between these and the domain of “global” impacts and consequences, both short and long-term.
  • Sustainability is a broad subject, often overlapping these disciplinary divisions.
  • “Society” is our client, and how we shape the production, form and substance of built and natural environs and systems is our means for influencing it for the better.

C.  Its focus is upon discovery through research and creative work.

  • We aim to engage faculty and students alike, in collaboration, often in action-based discovery and learning.  Direct engagement with those who build buildings, shape landscapes, furnish infrastructure, guide growth and manage change will be one primary vehicle for discovery. 
  • Discovery, we acknowledge, often is a result of “learning by doing.” 
  • But all that we undertake has as its ultimate goal to influence action. 
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