Charla Gomez, AICP LEED AP-ND and EcoDistricts Accredited Professional, brings over 10 years of sustainability experience in urban planning and design, development consulting, and public sector planning experience. She has focused her career on identifying progressive building design and community planning strategies that create value in real estate development. On a daily basis she researches leading trends in sustainability for both high-performance buildings and sustainable communities. A “doer/seller” sustainability professional, Charla is passionate about strategies that balance innovation with real world implementation in mainstream real estate. Learn more about Charla and her work at Pristis Sustainability Advisors – San Francisco, CA.
Why is equity, sustainability, and resilience important to you?
We increasingly live in a world that is polarized between those that have a lot and those who have nothing. Equity in community and neighborhood planning will not solve this crisis, but will certainly help create awareness and help cities be more inclusive. Cities like San Francisco thrive because of its diversity, and that includes people across all economic backgrounds.
Pursuing sustainability principles in city planning and community development is our best alternative to create cities that will sustain the future generations. More than just an ideal, I see it as a public investment in the quality of life for our future. As a professional who works at the intersection of pursuing sustainability goals and balancing them with a rationale for economic soundness, I constantly think about sustainability solutions that are financially sound. I believe that unsustainable patterns of urban living will be simply more expensive to carry on in the future. I also think that ecological services play a fundamental role in sustaining our way of living—and they do it at no apparent cost to us (i.e. no one charges us for the air we breathe). If we destroy them now, someone will have to replace and pay for them.
I see resilience as sort of our “life insurance” for the future. Cities that plan and invest in resiliency will better endure natural and man-induced threats such as climate change, which simply put, endangers our own survival in this planet. Again, planning for cities and communities that are resilient are just a good investments looking into the future.
What emerging priorities do you see as most important in your work?
Closing the gap of awareness between things that appear as intangible such as climate change effects and lack of resilience in our cities and towns. We must make them urgent and tangible. Creating a sense of urgency for the average person to act now is critical—we should be working towards shifting the discussion on climate change and resilience from the high level thinking by politicians and government entities to the dinner table of families. My priority is to ensure that we can quantify and project the costs of not doing anything, and to include families and community members in the decision-making process for neighborhood planning and community development today.
What do you see as the most important innovation in your field of the past decade?
Sustainability used to be something that most people considered academic and idealistic. The most important innovation is perhaps that creation of Green Rating Systems such as LEED, BREAM, Green Globes, EcoDistricts and others that have helped define and measure sustainability performance in buildings and communities. Today most people know what they are and pursuing them as part of real estate development decisions. In other words, there has been a market transformation for more green buildings and communities simply because we know now what it is, how to measure it, and the value that is created by them.
What have you found to be the greatest obstacle to district-scale work?
Perhaps it is the community outreach effort, trying to reach consensus from a very distinct and diverse group of stakeholders, who may or may not have the same priorities. It is completely different for districts that have single ownership or just few owners. The typical district in an urban environment such as San Francisco have complex multi-ethnic communities, often with different economic backgrounds, and belief systems of what is most important.
Why did you become an EcoDistricts Accredited Professional?
District-scale sustainability is the most effective scale to implement solutions that align equity, sustainability, resiliency, and climate change mitigation. The EcoDistrict Protocol was developed by consensus among some of the best minds in North America with expertise in community sustainability. It is performance-oriented, and represents district-scale sustainability best practices. It has very clear and straight-forward strategies to set goals and measure performance of those goals. Quantifying and measuring sustainability is critical to demonstrate results to communities and politicians. If we do not, we run the risk of being dismissed or not taken seriously anymore. It was very important for me to become an EcoDistricts AP, because it adds to my professional credibility and my ability to plan for neighborhood sustainability.
What makes you most excited about EcoDistricts?
Its potential to deliver climate action planning at the district or neighborhood level, and ultimately at the city scale. If a city like San Francisco could have all of its neighborhoods certified it would be much easier to meet the goals of the City’s climate action plan. Its Central SOMA EcoDistrict is already positioned to serve as a model for other neighborhoods in the city. Equally important, certified communities have a huge potential to “brand” district-scale sustainability solutions, the way that LEED did for building-scale projects.
The EcoDistricts website is a powerful hub of information about best practices for district-scale solutions. Talking with different folks who understand the EcoDistricts framework is extremely helpful. It really helps facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas and solutions. Being part of a community pursuing EcoDistricts Certification opens the opportunity to learn, and also to help others facing the same challenges in bringing district-scale sustainability to their communities.
How are you planning on utilizing the Member benefits in the coming year?
I am planning to certify at least one EcoDistrict in the Bay Area. Over the lifespan of the certification process, I will reach out to EcoDistricts staff and Studio for support and guidance. I am planning to submit the project to a future EcoDistricts Incubator so we can have the best minds in the country helping us.